Real Parenting: Less Judgy McJudgerson, More Love –My Messy Beautiful
On my (very short) run this morning, I saw a mom cross the street in front of me with her double jogger. As I passed them, I noticed that the girls in the stroller looked about similar size.
“Are they twins?” I asked, slowing down.
The mom looked apprehensive and didn’t quite get the answer out smoothly. “No, they’re a year apart.”
“I have multiples,” I explained, in case she got that question all the time. “So my multiples-radar is on high alert.”
She was visibly relieved. “I thought you were going to comment on that,” and she gestured to the ice cream bars her girls were eating. At 9:45 am.
“Oh, no!” (I hadn’t even noticed they were eating ice cream. But as I did, I kind of wanted one too.) “Did you think I was going to be all judgy?”
She confirmed. As we walked together for a block or so, we discussed judgy people and how she was worried that everyone would think poorly of her when they saw her kids with their ice cream. I told her how we had been kicked out of libraries and gotten nasty glares, and she said, “That makes me feel so much better!”
My parting shot to her was that I try to keep in mind that if people are mean, it’s their problem and not my problem.
The part that really is my problem, though, is the fear.
The fear of potential judgment.
That’s the fear that has restricted my own choices for my whole life. Not the actual mean comments, or nasty looks, or snide mutterings. The fear that people might act that way.
I have known people who seem to think it is their purpose and duty to point out others’ failings or flaws. Even if they don’t know the whole story. Even if they do.
That judgment does hurt. It makes me want to mask my woundedness and sneer right back: “Sorry. I don’t speak Rude” or something worse. This reaction is only likely to confirm the person’s already low opinion of me.
Or it makes me want to cry. In an attempt to make the person feel bad, I guess, which is also unlikely to happen.
One of the hardest lessons I will have to teach my children is that there are people who are kind of jerks. The Judgy McJudgersons. They deserve our love and forgiveness, and maybe our sympathy, if their attitude stems from their own feelings of inadequacy. But we don’t have to hang around them and absorb their toxicity.
But really, I have received far fewer actual judgments than the perceived and potential judgments I fear.
And what am I afraid of?
That I will be found to be not enough. Not organic enough. Not attached enough. Not letting-them-be-independent enough. Not crafty enough.
The Gods of Perfect Parents Who Don’t Exist. The EXPERTS. Because they’re out there, man. Telling us like it is.
Attachment parenting. Respectful parenting. French parenting. Chinese parenting. Natural parenting. (Because most of us are unnatural parents?) Dr. Medina. Dr. Gottman. Dr. Sears. Dr. Weisbluth. Ferber. Gerber.
At one point, my husband told me he thought I probably shouldn’t read any more articles about parenting.
Some of the things I’ve learned are truly helpful. How the baby brain develops. How the brain and emotions are connected. Mostly what I look for are strategies: when I’m researching, it’s likely because I’m stressed and frustrated at a particular behavior from my child(ren), and I don’t need someone to describe how other parents are doing something so much more successfully than me. I want answers, people.
And then the messy, beautiful truth hits me again and again. There aren’t any. There are philosophies and opinions and research and some strategies, but ultimately there is you (the parent) and your kid, who is not like any other kid who has ever been born. So it’s all trial and error. What do I value? What makes sense for me and my family? What will work with this kid? What will work with this kid on this day? Or this minute?
So I have named my own parenting philosophy. I call it Hail Mary parenting.
- Sometimes it’s a muttered prayer under angry breath, for the help not to throttle my children. I liken these moments to my fourth grade teacher Sister Waltrude’s stress management tactic: stride dramatically to the side of the room, grab the statue of St. Joseph in both hands, shake it, and proclaim, “St. Joseph, grant me patience!”
- Sometimes it’s a long-shot pass to the endzone, hoping for a touchdown. The final seconds in which my husband and I strategize how to fix a broken situation before it drives both of us insane. Like the “naptime” which was no longer a naptime but a two-hour trampolining yelling and singing session with three exhausted children who refused to sleep. We tried putting them down for nap one at a time, ten minutes apart. This week: solid naps again, and fewer afternoons of super-crabby toddlers. Win!
- Sometimes it’s full of grace. The moments where I remember to let them be independent, and they surprise me by what they can do. Of snuggling on the couch with a good book. Of conversation or made-up songs in which I get a tiny glimpse into their capacity for imagination and connection.
Hail Mary parenting is not about lecturing or research or judgment. Some of our kids eat ice cream for breakfast. Some have never let non-organic produce cross their lips.
Some Most of us yell. Some of us co-sleep. Some of us cry it out. All of us struggle and doubt ourselves and worry that we’re royally screwing up our children.
Hail Mary parenting is about the sisterhood and brotherhood. It’s about offering empathy instead of advice. It’s about walking side by side and shoring up each other against the Judgy McJudgersons of the world, real and imagined.
So name your own parenting strategy. Maybe it’s Middle Way parenting. Or Holy Shit parenting. Or Babies First parenting. Or Parent-and-Child-Can-Take-Turns-Being-First parenting.
When we can reach beyond labels and superiority and connect with each other’s imperfections, that’s Real Parenting.
I am not usually into advertising for other people, but I have found other parents’ blogs to be healing and comforting, knowing I am not alone. This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!