There’s no one right way to raise a child — so why am I passing judgment on anyone’s parenting choices?
According to my 11th-grade history paper, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, was an English minster who came to Plymouth in 1631. Upon arrival, he immediately began expelling congregants from the church for not being “godly” enough. After a sufficient number people were removed, they turned around and kicked him out of town. He moved to a new church in Salem and started the process all over again.
After he was ousted from Salem, he colonized a new area named Providence. He decided that church would be between him and God, and he wouldn’t concern himself with anyone else’s choices; therefore persons of any religion could settle in Rhode Island, making it the first colony with religious freedom.
I’m not sure if this is the truth or a 17-year-old’s simplified revision, but either way the story has stayed with me. Williams’ lesson was mind your own business, or judge not, lest ye be judged. He found freedom for himself by not caring what others did around him.
Help, I’ve Got a Log in My Eye
Recently, a friend — who works full time, goes to school and has two toddlers (one who is still nursing) — told me her oldest falls asleep on the couch each night in front of the TV.
“Oh my,” I thought self-righteously. “These people need to get a schedule, get some regularity.” I spent the rest of the night imagining a plan of action to help her get her life on track.
It wasn’t until the next afternoon at nap time when I laid my youngest son down in bed and turned on a DVD that I realized I was a huge, possibly demented, hypocrite.
Even still, upon my realization, I started rationalizing why it was OK for me to do it and not her.
“But he watches just five minutes of the same show every day and falls asleep while we cuddle,” I think. “It’s different.”
“You’re not different,” I reply.
“But it is an educational DVD,” I demand.
“It’s the same,” I say.
“But I’m just doing it in the day, not at night,” I beg.
“It’s the same,” I say.
“But I’m better!” I scream back.
“A better mother? Is that what this is all about?” I ask.
“Maybe,” I reply sheepishly.
“Well, I bet she doesn’t write about talking to herself,” I say.
Paradox of Choice
I always imagine that if I lived in a little tribe, I would go to the old wise matriarch and I would ask her what to do when a kid screams and screams at nap time for so long that you, just for a second, wonder if you put your hands around his little neck and squeeze he might magically fall asleep. And she would tell me what she did when she had little ones and what her mother did and her mother’s mother, and I would do the same. (Whilst being annoyed that I had to follow her decision.) Then if that didn’t work I would go to the medicine man, and he would ask the gods what to do, and they would tell him, and I would do that. No other choices.
But instead, when deciding the best way to raise our kids, there is no definitive place to turn. We have a huge parenting section at the bookstore. We have a million blogs to read. We have advice from every other parent and grandparent. And everyone is saying something different.
But what is the right way? I find myself unable to accept that there could be two right ways to do the same thing. I find myself in a battle of “Mommying Right.” Instead of accepting other moms’ different choices, I feel like I am in a mometition … errr, I mean competition.
Since, internally, I don’t know if I’m doing a good job, I strive toward outwardly looking like the perfect, happy, creepy family. I want my kids to eat food that we grow in our own organic garden, and to wear clothes that I hand-sew on my 150-year-old Singer sewing machine, using thread that I spun from the wool of my sheep. Even in my coveralls, composting our sewage, I want to look gorgeous as I walk the perfect line between the Virgin and the Whore. When my family smiles, I want you to believe you heard a traingle ding at the sight of our perfect white teeth.
Wrap all that up and put a bow on it, then present me with a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. (Ding!)
But I HATE being around people like that. I loathe the woman who does everything more beautifully than you. I like to see a glimpse of reality, a messy house, an unwashed kid, a used disposable diaper thrown into the wash. I enjoy being with women who will admit that they have yelled at their kid for peeing on the floor two minutes after asking them if they had to go, or confess that they have spanked in anger, or acknowledge that they often imagine running away to the Caribbean. I crave honesty.
No one wants to spend time with perfection, so why am I striving for it? Am I really so insecure? Do I think if the kids turn out rotten, people will say, “Well their mother never let them eat artificial coloring, so it can’t be her fault that they joined the Jonestown Revival Cult.”
Providence, Rhode Island
Parenting isn’t about doing it right. And there is no perfect. There is no One Right Way. There is only different. Just because I think a particular issue is important, doesn’t mean that it is. So why am I passing judgment on anyone’s choices? Like Roger Williams, I need to focus on my own kids and let everyone else choose for themselves.
Easier said than done, but I think from now on whenever I start judging someone’s parenting, I’m going to start thinking, “Rhode Island, Rhode Island.”
Just to put myself back into a state of freedom.