This originally appeared on Amateur Idiot Professional Dad. Republished here with permission.
You’re doing a bunch of things wrong. But so is everyone else. Maybe if we all admit we suck, we can stop trying to live up to some fictionalized ideal.
Every other parent is doing it so much better than you are. They’re active, involved, always present, and never lose their temper. Their kids only eat organic food. Television? I’m pretty sure that most parents don’t even own a TV.
You mean you let your kids watch that garbage? Don’t you know it rots their brains!?! I guess it’ll match their insides, with all that sugar you let them eat. YOU ARE A BAD PARENT!
So am I. So is my wife. So is just about every parent I know. And we all feel so guilty.
We look around and see moms and dads who are doing it right. Sure, they’re kind of boring and we don’t like to hang out with them, but they’ve got their act together. They’re gluten-free paleo organic freegan vegan ultramarathon runners and their kids wear homemade Halloween costumes and help craft their own toys. Good friggin’ grief! Sorry to any readers who are gluten-free paleo organic freegan vegan ultramarathon runners. But we get it…you’re awesome! Now, stop. You’re making the rest of us feel like crap. Besides, with all the time you spend growing, scavenging, and preparing those highly specialized and tasteless meals, training for your 100 mile races, and crocheting your kids clothes, who is watching those kids!?! Ha! You are a bad parent, too!
WE ALL SUCK as parents. So relax, it’s not just you. Every parent has doubts about whether they’re raising their kids correctly. But while your personal struggles are often all-consuming, the struggles of others remain hidden behind smiling faces. People put the pictures on Facebook that they want you to see: them and their family doing something amazing. And you think, “wow, that family must always do fun stuff like that.”
Of course, you posted a similar picture a week ago, but you know that is not the norm for your family. That’s why you posted it. No one’s status update is, “finally doing the dishes after three days. I hope my kids zone out in front of the TV long enough for me to finish.” OK, once I posted something like that. But only because it was funny.
The articles that go viral are generally the ones where advice is given (at least implicitly), not the ones where help is sought and insecurities revealed. I’m sure you’ve all read that post about the mother who raises her children in the French method, her whole family eating escargot together while discussing Nietzsche. It is truly phenomenal and you share it on your page, joking “I can’t even get mine to eat chicken nuggets lol.” Then for two dinners you insist your kids eat everything on their plate. They scream the whole time and barely eat anything. On day three, someone shares a Huffington Post Parents article about how forcing your picky eater to clean her plate will give your child low self-esteem and long-lasting issues with food, while preventing her from ever finding true love and happiness. So, you curse like a drunken sailor and toast up some Ellio’s pizza, as you think, “I am a terrible parent.”
There is a laundry list of things you are doing wrong. It started when you didn’t breastfeed or didn’t breastfeed long enough (or, if you’re a guy, told your wife formula was just as good). You bought baby food, instead of mashing it up yourself. You spend time with your kids, but you wonder if it’s “quality” time. You let them watch too much TV. To compound this crime, you steer them to the shows you like instead of the ones that are “educational.” You give in on that sugary cereal, because their grocery store whining is embarrassing you. Once or twice, you even let them have soda. Though you love them with all your heart, a lot of the time (especially in the car) you just want them to shut the eff up. And when they start getting on your nerves, you start getting a little too sarcastic.
Plus, you’re a friggin’ hypocrite. You tell them to clean up their toys, but the house is a mess. And I know you have the AA batteries for that really annoying toy your daughter loves, ya big liar. You work too much. You drink too much. You swear too much. You’re on your stupid iPhone too much.
All or some of these things are true about each and every one of us. More are about me than I care to admit. But…screw that. I am a good parent. And so are you. This post isn’t about making you feel bad about yourself. It’s a reminder: Don’t judge yourself too harshly against the idealized versions of family that people put out there.
Also, don’t judge other parents too harshly when the choices they make are different than your own. You don’t know what their situation is. And—this cannot be stressed enough—really don’t judge a parent who loses his cool in the middle of the grocery store. You do not know what crap he’s been putting up with all day. Let’s just give each other and ourselves a break.
Maybe if we admit that we all kind of suck, we can stop feeling so damn guilty about not living up to a fictionalized social media ideal and realize that most of us are parenting the hell out of our kids.
Dave Lesser is a former attorney who much prefers his job as a stay-at-home dad to two hilarious and adorable children. His amazing wife fully supports his love of obstacle course, road and trail races. He is a regular contributor to Time Ideas, the Huffington Post and the Good Men Project, and blogs at www.