As a child-free young person, you probably had a vision of what kind of parent you would be. That vision probably included healthy food at the dinner table and music lessons after school. It probably didn’t include bribing them with candy to behave.
Let’s face it: we all have a particular idea of how children should be raised. That idea often includes no television and lots of enrichment activities. It includes organic foods, and time-outs that actually work. And then reality hits.
Sometimes, the reality is that your child has a sweet tooth that just won’t quit. Their toddler years may have been a blissful time of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but then they grow up and not only would they rather die than eat those green beans, they’ve discovered Toxic Waste candy (yes, there is such a thing) and they’re experts at secretly hoarding it.
Sometimes, your child is naturally rambunctious, and precious things get destroyed on a daily basis, no matter how carefully you watch them or how much you invest in child-proofing. Or sometimes, they are emotionally sensitive – get ready for lots of crying jags over things that seem incredibly trivial, including meltdowns at the preschool open house, a family member’s funeral, and the grocery store (and that’s just in one day).
Sometimes (expectant parents, you may want to skip over this the rest of this sentence), it’s all of the above and more. Your child may be rambunctious one minute, and an emotional wreck the next. They may be blessed with the ability to turn any toy into a weapon, and they will almost certainly take no interest in an activity that you have thoughtfully planned out or paid a lot of money for. And when you lay down to sleep at night, exhausted from the day, they seem to know just when you’ve hit your deepest REM sleep, because it’s then that they will appear and announce that they’ve wet the bed. In that moment, a moment that would bring weaker people to their knees, you will stumble out of bed, change the sheets, and stumble back for a few more precious moments of sleep. You’ve got to get as much shut-eye as you can, for tomorrow you’re going to do it all again.
The point is this: parenting is hard. Really, really, really hard. You may start out making your own organic baby food, but you’re going to end up buying your child corn dog nuggets and being thankful that they are willing to eat something – anything – on the restaurant menu after a tearful, sobbing oration (loud enough to attract the attention of neighboring tables, of course) about how they don’t like anything at this place because it’s all yucky.
So cut yourself some slack. All parenting is imperfect because you are raising little human beings – with their own distinctive personalities, likes, dislikes, quirks, and shortcomings. Just like you. You’re either an imperfect parent, or you’re not a parent at all.
However, being imperfect doesn’t mean that you’re not a good parent, and the gentle hugs and sticky kisses are pretty good proof that you’re on the right track. So do your best, ignore the judgmental stares of your child-free relative at the family reunion, and remind yourself that the only people allowed to judge your parenting are your own kids… but only after they become parents.