I don’t believe there is a best way to raise kids. I have four kids who are all different. Two are adopted, two are biological. Two are girls and two are boys. My oldest is Chinese and lived her first years in Connecticut, followed by time in Seoul and now we call Honolulu our home. My youngest has lived her whole life in Seoul and Honolulu. Essentially, she’s lived off the grid and always been a minority in an unusual way. If you look at her blond hair and blue eyes, you’d never guess she eats rice and seaweed every day, puts soy sauce on everything and eats with chopsticks more often than a fork. She sends me love notes and texts with hearts and smiles every day.
I can’t only read a parenting book to develop my mom game plan. Scarily, I use instinct. Sometimes I get things right and sometimes I get things wrong. One time I berated my little girl for refusing to eat pizza, ever. She burst into tears and I told her to toughen up. I don’t want to be judged on that moment. Who doesn’t like pizza? Tomatoes, cheese and bread. What’s not to like in America’s favorite food? In that moment, I worried she’d be unpopular at birthday parties and all teen events if she doesn’t lose her hatred of pizza. Plus I don’t want her to cry easily. She has a gentle spirit and I want her to learn to guard it. But that was not my finest moment as a mom and I don’t want to be judged on it.
Too often moms are judging other moms on moments. A moment usually has many other moments that led up to it.
Women have a reputation for being judgmental and petty. I took a survey. I asked more than one hundred people to describe a petty person they know. Every time except once, the person described was female. Everyone thinks petty thoughts once in a while, but this is one image we should work on. A shift in perception will lead to a shift in reality, for the better.
I have a ‘pick your battles’ approach. I have long since realized I have no hope of controlling every action/reaction/thought/behavior and tendency of my four children.
Two of my children were pacifier addicts. I listened to multiple people tell me how bad this habit is— that it’s a crutch, that it could affect their teeth, yadda yadda. I hid the pacifiers when others were around, knowing I couldn’t take them away. I was not ready to deal with trying to get a child to sleep who was crying for his ‘binky’. Even my husband said, “Take them away. They don’t need them.” Truth be told, they were my crutch and I needed them, too. For some reason, sucking on these little plastic items soothed my child. And they were, at least relatively, hygienic. I washed them regularly in the dishwasher using, yes, Palmolive. I was told the only thing ‘green’ about Palmolive is the color and I should switch to something organic. This was yet another piece of advice I chose to ignore. When I lived in Seoul, I wasn’t always sure what the bottles contained. Palmolive was a familiar friend.
I picked other battles—for example, I make my kids help pick up the toys, and, I won’t buy my child a toy every time we walk in a store just because he falls to the floor and pitches a fit. When my kids act up in public spaces and deliver what I consider full-on stare-worthy moments (in a bad way), they don't get what they want! All they get is my mom voice, which I consider a weapon, and my best eye squint. This of course, is if I am well rested and able to hold to the high standards I have set. Since the fourth child, I must admit, my thoughts remain very strict, but I’ve become lax in my implementation. Sometimes, I’m just too tired.
My friends offered some stories about situations where judging others came into play.
Nikki, I’m not judging you
Mackenzie has a friend whose mom is a lawyer and now a stay-at-home mom. I consider her one of the best moms I know. She researches everything, uses all green products, apparently cooks a healthy dinner every night I’ve seen, works out and has seemingly well behaved children. Her marriage appears to be in good shape. When Mackenzie was younger, I used to dread being measured against her. She threw perfect birthday parties with cakes and favors that were works of art. She played with the kids during play dates and set up fun activities! Her house was the ‘hide and seek’ headquarters. To me, the mom always seemed a little stand-offish and every time I saw her she described her previous work experience. One time I asked her what her daughter was doing for the summer. She said defensively, “that’s what I’m good for, researching all the summer camps, sports teams and music teachers for everyone else who has more important things to do. Thanks a lot. I thought as a working mom you’d get it.” She said she wanted to have a real discussion where her opinions are valued, not as a mom authority, but as an educated person. She was looking for my respect and some adult conversation about life in general, issues. I had always assumed she thought I was not the greatest mom since I worked so much, but in fact she wanted to get to know me as a person. I gave her a hug and we sat down and talked for two hours. She is a great friend of mine still now, years later. We each have something very concrete to give the other. I give her validation as a person with awesome opinions. She lessens my working mom guilt by treating me like an equal mom. And neither of us judges the other.
Misty, in this case, it’s okay to judge!
I was taking my very sweet son to his kindergarten transition ceremony. As we walked up the stairs, a little girl was headed in with her mom. She pointed at my son and said, “I don’t want to sit next to him. I don’t like him.” The mom looked at her daughter and said, “okay sweetheart because it’s your day!” My little boy looked at me, almost in tears. I was so shocked, I didn’t say anything. The teacher, of course, wouldn’t change places for such an unfounded request, and the little girl pitched a fit with her mom placating her. It ruined the moment for my son. I studied the little girl’s face and her mother’s as well. I can’t wait until my son is the star football player and the little girl will be dying for him to notice her. Because moms can hold a grudge when you are evil to her child. How can a mom allow her daughter to be so rude?
I don’t rely strictly on instinct. If I’m unsure about something, I’ll usually read up on the subject or ask someone I consider a contemporary for advice. There are so many micro decisions I make every day. Should my child be exposed to the news or is it too graphic? Should a ten-year old be allowed to see a PG13 movie? What time should children go to sleep? When my children fight, should I referee every time or make them work it out? For all these scenarios, there are multiple, valid opinions but the media, and other establishments such as school, parenting books or other moms can act as if there is only one right way. This leaves moms feeling like they aren’t measuring up.
In another straw poll interview, I asked lots of my friends who the judgy-est moms are. My friends Audrey, Alyssa, Nikki and Lanie didn’t hesitate. They claimed the worst judgers are first time moms with little kids. Lanie reminded me that I was one with my first child. I, like many first time moms, had recently left the workforce and was determined to attain the whole work-child balance. I read everything there was to read about child development, went to every appointment, and hit every child milestone like a pro.
Lanie said, “First time moms, like you were, don’t have to wear an ID to the first day of school. We can smell you a mile away.” I cringed a little.
Alyssa added, “You used to dress your little kids in uncomfortable first day of school clothes, greet all the teachers by name, and photograph everything.”
Audrey teased, “You lingered in the classroom feeling like no other mother could possibly love her child as much as you did.”
Wow, ouch thank goodness I’ve changed. I said, “I’ve mellowed out. What a nightmare I was.”
I think back to my daughter’s first day at pre-school. With her successful open-heart surgery a few months before, I had an extra excuse for not leaving quickly. I was the queen of lingering, wanting a few extra minutes with the teachers, inspecting the other kids. My little girl looked adorable but she was dressed for a fancy Sunday brunch. At pick up, my daughter’s dress was off and she wore her spare change of clothes. She had dirty knees, no shoes and a huge smile. Her hair was wild, as she had ripped out her beautiful pink ponytail holder. She was, in short, a happy mess. I remembered Steph saying, “First one, huh?” I nodded. Lanie said, “Felt like your heart was breaking leaving her. It’s surprising to see how well she did without you. We’ve all been there.”
I was so thankful they did not judge me for the uptight newcomer I was, but rather pulled me into their gray zone with humor and friendship. With four kids, I’m too tired to be that uptight. Now I give the uptight mom with little children a second and third chance, pull her in so she can mellow out.