Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Give me your worst

Have you ever noticed, when someone starts a conversation with "I must be the worst parent ever, because..." what usually follows is great parenting practice?

Here are some recent examples:

"I must be the worst mommy in the world because I fed them macaroni and cheese from a box last night."

This, from a mother of many, who creates elaborate Shabbat meals every week, is only two loads away from an empty laundry basket, and has chaperoned nearly every field trip in countless years of her kids' lives at school. Oh, and they were home late that night because of an unscheduled doctor's appointment.

Yeah, she should have made them all wait for salad full of cruciferous vegetables glistening with antioxidants, cut on the diagonal.

"They're going to hate me because I wouldn't let them go to both birthday parties on the same day. It was all just too much for me. "

News flash: All parties are optional, with perhaps the exception of one's own. It's okay, in fact, it's good, to model moderation in one's social life. Any host who doesn't understand this, is worth seeing less, anyway.

"I'm such a bad mother. I ducked a play-date because I can't stand the other kid's mother. I'm going to ruin his social life."
Or, she's going to refrain from ruining her own. This is a complicated situation, but it's not bad parenting to respect her own boundaries.

"I'm the worst mother ever. I told him he had to walk home from soccer practice. I've only been to half the games because his sister's piano lesson is at the same time, across town. I told him I can't be everywhere. He told me the other mothers are always there."

I don't believe him. And even if he's right, and all the other mothers are there, so what? I mourn for the time when kids could play games without adult interference.

In the U.S., kids are so supervised, scheduled, monitored and chaperoned that it's rare that they get the opportunity to referee themselves and organize their own games. It's enough that we know where they are, and that they're safe. Why can't they have some experiences without an authority figure structuring and framing them? Not every kid-initiated activity degenerates into the Lord of the Flies.

It's also important for the child to know that his mother is human, and has limits.

All of these decisions could have gone another way, and still have had reasonable results. It might have been better (or not significantly worse) to have used whole wheat pasta, carpooled to the parties, arranged a group play-date that minimized contact with the odious parent's lovely child, or developed a relativity-defying transporter that allows a parent to attend multiple simultaneous events. I don't know. Neither did they.

Being a parent means making countless decisions. Every choice has its trade-offs. (Otherwise, it wouldn't have been much of a choice, would it?)

When a thoughtful, invested and intelligent person wields decision making power, inevitably there will be mistakes. It's important to be open to evaluating the result and cost of our judgments.

When we become parents, we switch teams. We become 'them'. I think these "worst mother ever" stories originate from a holy empathy born of our previous affiliation.

We put on the Parent Hat, make the decision, then remember what it felt like to wear the Kid Cap. When we hold our ground, while respecting change the color of our team jerseys. The Worst Evers understand good sportsmanship.

Seeking feedback from choices requires depth and courage. If droplets of remorse are allowed to accumulate, it's possible to drown them, given the staggering quantity of small choices in a typical parenting day. These Worst Mom Evar stories serve an important purpose. They help us drain each other's buckets.

Meanwhile, don't get me started on those who proudly tout their systems, clearly convinced they've outsmarted childhood.

It's whenever I think (however briefly) I've "solved parenting" that the Universe promptly delivers a whack upside my head - like banging on a radio to get better humility reception.

I'm not saying there's no place for a positive evaluation of a great result, or that satisfaction is impossible. I'm not advocating neuroticism. It's just that complacency and smugness are incompatible with the authenticity and flexibility required for any important relationship.

So, give me the parents willing to consider their imperfections, those with active feedback-reception-loops who test their results and their measurement scales. Give me those capable of introspection, adaptation, and a sense of humor.

Go on, give me your worst. They're the best.

Mazal tov to MamaBlogga on her new baby! This post was written in response to her "New Normal" themed group writing project.

Oh, and speaking of guilt and parenting decisions, Catherine presented this wrenching story today at her blog (coincidentally named "Her Bad Mother").

18 comments, so far. Add yours now!

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Leora said...

In the U.S., kids are so supervised, scheduled, monitored and chaperoned

I hate to write about bad news, but I feel so bad for the mom who let her kids use the elevator as usual and one died. I bet she'll live with a horrible feeling in her stomach for the rest of her life. Child dies falling down elevator shaft

Anonymous said...

I think that there needs to be a good balance. I was raised by a single mom of three who, by necessity, gave the three of us (moreso me, the oldest) more independence to do things for and by ourselves. She was my biggest fan, but also had to be two other peoples biggest fans without a single person to help. Because of that, if I left my lunch at home, I figured out how to get another one, etc etc. On the other hand, my chosson's mother was the opposite. He is 27 and if she could still do his laundry, she would. Because of this, he is paralyzed by the idea of making a plane reservation without a minyon. Which way is better? Neither. A mix would leave me better at asking for help and chosson able to pay a parking ticket! ;) BTW, Juggling---love your blog!!!

Baila said...

I am the worst mom ever. I tell my kids its "fend for yourself night" for dinner because I'm to busy blogging.


Juggling Frogs said...


Baruch dayan emet.

I ache for the family. May they be comforted, and may they be spared further sorrow.

I'm working on a post for next week's Gratitude Carnival, about the aftermath of my son's head injury. He fell from my arms at 4.5 months onto a concrete floor in a doctor's office at a follow-up visit, and suffered multiple complex skull fractures.

He was in his mother's (my) arms. We were surrounded by doctors. We were there for an almost optional follow-up to a healed ear infection. The appointment was over, and I was waiting for the receipt after paying my bill. I was holding him because I didn't want him to crawl on the dirty floor.

I had to learn that no matter how hard we try to deny our vulnerability, danger exists. We can take reasonable steps to avoid risk, but it is not possible to eliminate it.

The results are out of our hands. All we can do is our best.

Awful things can happen, even as a result of a perfectly good parenting decision. If we have a tendency to second-guess ourselves at the choice of boxed macaroni and cheese, I can't begin to imagine the anguish of the family.

May they find comfort and support in this time of trauma. May they find their way to a place of healing.


Thank G-d, your children will have exactly that balance!

Let's hope each generation gets a bit closer to finding the right place to put the fulcrum.


See? You're teaching them how to prioritize.

G6 said...

"Progress NOT perfection" is what a dear friend of mine continuously reminds me.

Orthonomics said...

Have you ever read Hyperparenting/The Overscheduled Child?

Great post.

SuperRaizy said...

This is a powerful and very well written post.

Phyllis Sommer said...

i think we are (badly) trained as mothers to compare ourselves to others, to judge ourselves against storybook/tv/movie moms, to define "good mom" based on other people's definitions instead of our own.

i recommend brene brown's "the gifts of imperfect parenting" because we are all imperfect and that's okay.

great post!

Anonymous said...

I am yet to be a mom...I don't feel to be a mom.

Anonymous said...

I think you are spot on.

PS. Did you receive my E-Mail??

Juggling Frogs said...


Your friend is very wise. Whether it's Flylady, Shifra, Malky,or someone else!


Thank you! I haven't read that book, but I've seen recommendations and references to it. I'll put it on my library list.


Thank you so much.

Rabbi Phyllis,

I agree with you, it can get out of control. When it does, it makes us nutty.

I see the comparing as an important tool. I think it's built in to us as a feedback loop, allowing us adjust and correct course, keeping our judgement aligned with common sense and societal norms.

We go crazy when we connect the inputs to too many places, to the wrong places, or allow the feedback too much value and power over us.

I'm going to add Brene Brown's imperfect parenting book to my list, too.

I also enjoyed The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.

Thank you!


Don't worry. If only those who felt ready to be a mom were given the task, the world would be a mostly-empty place.

It's all about on-the-job training and just-in-time-inventory of wisdom, judgement, and adrenaline.


Thank you! I checked and searched my e-mail folders, but the only thing I saw was your sweet comment about Gretta on the Cancer tools post.

Can you send it again?

Ariella's blog said...

My worst in recent memory is completely losing track of time one day when I had to pick up my daughter from camp. I was home but in the midst of business phone calls. But that is really an anomaly for me, and I apologized to both the camp directory (who was actually quite calm about it when she called me) and my daughter.

As I work from home, I do sometimes have to ignore my children to get things done. And I do believe in some "benign neglect" in having the older kids prepare their own lunches for school, etc. But I don't think that makes me the worst mother. And compared to some I know, I think I do a pretty good job.

rutimizrachi said...

"It's whenever I think (however briefly) I've "solved parenting" that the Universe promptly delivers a whack upside my head - like banging on a radio to get better humility reception."

Great line, and so true! I read every book, looking for ways to deal with raising Soldier Boy, only to come to the conclusion that he wasn't in any of them. Now I could write a book on how to raise Soldier Boy... which would be useless to every other mother on the planet, and even would not be much help in raising his younger brothers.

Thank you for humorously and clearly giving us a break from the guilt of having no clue how to do this awesome job.

A Living Nadneyda said...

Oy, how many times have I forgotten the time, and the kids... given my kids pasta (or breakfast cereal) yet again... let the laundry pile sky-high until there's no clean underwear to be found... forgotten to keep up with my daughter's HW assignments and then yelled at her for forgetting...

Add to the list those endless dilemmas: How much to hold on, how much to let them go? Which age is appropriate for what activity? When to explain "the facts of life," in all their variations?

The list is endless, and the irony is, the more we "succeed," the less they'll need us in the end. We're all doing the best we can. I agree with anonymous... balance, balance, balance. (When I find out what that means, I'll let everyone know....)


EndOfWorld said...

Personally, I think that most people say that because they want validation that what they're doing is a good thing.
If we really believed we were bad parents, we wouldnt be broadcasting it for all of child services to hear.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! I agree with rutimizrachi; my favorite line iss "It's whenever I think (however briefly) I've "solved parenting" that the Universe promptly delivers a whack upside my head - like banging on a radio to get better humility reception."

That's exactly how I feel!

Thanks for participating!

Ursula said...

Hee hee-I surrendered my aspirations of being "the perfect mom" a long time ago! I think it was the first time I caught my sons reflux vomit down my shirt-I knew then and there who was dictating a good portion of my life!

I have been lucky to have some great parenting role models in my life, so I don't worry if things are a little messy, dinner is either made by someone else or from a box/heat & eat, etc. I just look to see if there's a smile on my 3 y.o.'s face and a giggle coming from it (and if the face is clean). That's my validation that everything is on track.

(here by way of GWP)

RivkA with a capital A said...

LOVE this post!!

Baila -- total LOL!! (been there, done that!!)

I can tell you why my kids think I'm the worst mom ever.

I am the worst mom ever because:

1. I make them turn off the light and stop reading

2. I make them eat vegetables.

3. I make them eat protein.

4. I won't let them eat/drink sugar (except in limited quantities)

5. I don't let them add salt to everything

6. I make them eat whole wheat/grains.

7. I make them do their homework

8. I make them clean their room

9. I make them help with household chores

10. I don't let them do things that "everyone else's mother lets them"

I tell my kids, "If you want another mother, go to the mommy store and see if you can find a better model!"


Of course, I can tell you the reasons I think sometimes I am the worst mom ever.... but I try not to go down that path too much. I try to focus on what I am doing right...

If you liked this article, congratulations! You have great taste. Please brew yourself a cup of coffee.
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