I get so annoyed when people comment on my parenting. They use the justification that that’s how they were raised and they “turned out just fine”. Like, yeah, but it’s been 100 years since then and we’ve learned a thing or two…so I’m going to go ahead and put on sunscreen and wear my seat belt. Kthanks.
But lately I’ve been thinking about that very same justification. Being a parent today is like navigating a mine field of guilt. There are so many ways to fuck up and so many people watching and waiting for that fuck up. The parenting world can unfortunately be super judgmental. And on top of that, we have so many conflicting resources coming out on a constant basis, it’s really hard to know if we’re doing anything right.
So I got to thinking about how I was raised, because I also seemed to have “turned out just fine” (see exhibit A, below). And thinking about all the ways my parents “did it wrong” by today’s unreasonable standards really did help me to cut myself some slack. Raising a tiny human is hard enough. But treating it like you’re trying to win the parenting Olympics is just stupid. And exhausting. And soul crushing. And unnecessary.
My mom had me at 36 years old after a few miscarriages. She quit work to stay home with me. I was formula fed from day one. She started giving me rice cereal at one month. I slept on my tummy with bumpers in the crib. I slept in my parents bed well into elementary school. I’d even set up a make shift bed of blankets and pillows and sleep on the floor next to my mom. I used to watch TV to fall asleep. There was no such thing as organic. No one had ever heard of GMO’s. I ate so much sugar. My Cuban grandparents would literally give me a cup of sugar with a spoon to eat. That’s a true story. I had a computer in my room. With internet. Dial up internet, but still. I’d sleep over my friends houses all the time. I ate lunchables every day. I had my birthday parties at Dandy Bear every single year. Until I got too old for that. Then I’d have a pool party at my grandparents house. Every year. The same birthday party. And I loved it. I could count on my hands the number of plane rides I ever took with my parents. I didn’t play any sports. Or have any real extracurriculars. I was over protected and I was overly confident.
And I turned out just fine. My parents decided for themselves how to raise me. Without the chorus of judgement. Without the encyclopedia of rules. They managed to raise a smart, confident, well-adjusted human being. I may have been raised on cartoons and fake food and red dye number 3. Butterfly clips, boy bands and Betty spaghetti. But those things don’t add up to the amount of love I was raised on. I was surrounded by so much love. I was encouraged to be happy, try new things, and love myself. To have a free spirit and an open mind and a generous heart. So I have a bit of a sweet tooth and some separation anxiety. But all in all I’d say they did a pretty damn good job.
The very first article I ever published was titled “Generation Anxiety” and it was about how millennials have been bred to feel this sense of anxiety about our decisions and it’s informing how we choose our paths in life. We were raised in the age of the internet and grew up with everything we ever needed to know right at our finger tips. With so many places to look, its hard to know which way is right for you. And now, with the advent of social media, we get to watch how everyone else is choosing to do things, and we begin to question our own decisions even further. It’s a vicious cycle of identity crisis. And we’re drowning.
The truth is, its not about what your parenting looks like to anyone else. Redirect your gaze inward. Look around at your own family. Your own kids. How are they doing? Are they healthy? Thank goodness. Are they happy? Wonderful! I think those are the only two universal standards that everyone should be focused on. The rest is up to you! Like I have a few key values I try to focus on with my kids. Along with being happy and healthy, I want them to be grateful, respectful and curious. From now on, those are the values that will be informing my parenting decisions. Not anxiety. Not comparison. Not judgement. I’m throwing out the last fuck I have to give and I’m refocusing my attention to what I believe matters most.
Of course we want to give our kids the world. We want to give them everything we never had. We want to learn from the mistakes made before us and do better. We want them to have perfect lives. But they can’t. Their lives can’t be perfect because there’s no such thing. Social media temporarily tricks us into believing it is real and it is attainable. But it’s not. And we’re killing ourselves trying to chase this unrealistic expectation. And while we’re busy chasing it, our kids are watching. And learning. And that’s not what I want to teach my kids. I don’t want to teach them that they need to be chasing happiness. That they need to be rushing. And busy. And chasing. I don’t want to teach them that they need to be perfect. I want them to know that sometimes life isn’t perfect, but that I’ll always be there for them when it isn’t. And that sometimes, life can be more perfect than we ever imagined. And I’ll be there for those times, too.
Jada Pinkett Smith said it perfectly in her latest episode of Red Table Talk:
I think parents have to give themselves much more forgiveness. When you become a parent, you have these huge ideals. Even for yourselves. Because we all are coming into parenting with our own childhood traumas. And you’re hoping that you can fix all that through your own rearing of your children. And you can’t. Your kids are going to have their burdens.
So on those days when you’re feeling like you’re doing everything wrong, just stop yourself for a moment and ask yourself, “am I loving them”? If the answer is yes, you have nothing to worry about. If you’re giving them all the love that your heart can give and then some, you can stop beating yourself up.
It’s ok. They’ll turn out just fine.