Why isn’t she breastfeeding? Why is she STILL breastfeeding? Did you see she gave her 10-year-old a cellphone? She hovers like a Sikorsky! She left soccer practice early. She forgot to cut up his grapes! I heard she gave her daughter a Bratz doll – does she WANT to raise that kind of girl?
Time out from America’s favorite spectator sport: Mommy bashing. Mommies who “ignore” their kids. Mommies who “smother” their kids. Mommies who do what mommies have done since the beginning of time -- their gosh-darn best. And yet, according to some onlooker somewhere (often one with air time to fill), that’s just not good enough.
But it is.
Considering that throughout most of human history moms were 13-year-olds with zero education and not even a cuneiform copy of “What to Expect,” the idea that any mom has to do everything perfectly, or that there even IS a perfect mom (besides mine), is ridiculous. So chill!
Ah, but who can? It’s too easy and fun to play the “Bad mommy!” game – and I should know. I’m America’s Worst Mom. (Go ahead. Google it.) I got that name for letting my 9-year-old ride the subway alone a few years back, and writing a column about it. The pixels hadn’t dried before folks were jumping down my throat – “What if someone had kidnapped your son?” – even as other folks were coming to my defense.. But aside from realizing just how obsessed we’ve become with the idea of predators, I realized something else. Our culture had become obsessed with parenting! Why did anyone care how I’m raising my kids? Since when are we evaluating moms instead of celebrating them?
As far as I can tell, the trend began with a certain Austrian psychoanalyst – Sigmund himself – who determined that there are all sorts of subtle influences on children that help shape who they become.
Unfortunately, that idea got dumbed down into, “Parents can really screw up their kids!” And then “parents” turned into “mothers,” and “can” turned into, “almost always,” and “screw their kids up” well, that stayed the same. Except with our dreary, daytime TV emphasis on victimization, we added, “for the rest of their lives.”
The unforeseen consequences? Worry and blame. We worry that one false move -- a harsh word, a broken promise, perhaps a non-Paul Newman sandwich cookie -- could cause a lifetime of pain. This worry is reinforced by a tsunami of parenting “resources” telling moms how to do everything just right: the right books, words, classes. I’ve seen whole articles on which sand toys to buy.
The corollary is blame: If moms don’t do all those things (and spend all that time and waste all that money), their kids will be losers. And it’s all their fault.
That message is why mothers are getting the short end of the rattle. It’s a message that says there’s some secret recipe for raising great kids and anyone not following the recipe is doing it WRONG. That gives everyone else the freedom – nay, the drive – to judge moms right and left. “Britney was smoking in front of her boys!” “Katie is spending too much for Suri’s clothes!” “Tori is…” (Fill in the blank. You can take a nap and then fill in some more.)
But you know what? Most moms, whether working or not, breastfeeding or not, are doing a great job. They hug their children. They kiss the boo-boo, they get the kids fed. And if it’s a Hot Pocket instead of broccoli rabe…so what?
There ISN’T a secret recipe for childrearing, there’s only the basic ingredient: Love. Most moms have it in spades. It’s who they are. So don’t keep telling them what they’re doing wrong.
Thank them for getting the biggest thing right.
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog, "Free-Range Kids" (Wiley, 2010). She is also host of "World's Worst Mom" on Discovery/TLC International.