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You Are Not Your Kid's Crappy Lunch

Photograph by Getty Images

It's that time of year when my children's lunches reflect the amount of energy I have: none. Today, they went to school with peanut butter crackers, apple sauce (probably with high fructose corn syrup in it, I don't know), grapes and cheese sticks. Almost all of that was the processed version of the foods (like I actually cut cheese into sticks, ha!). I don't remember if I washed the grapes.

I have a friend who packs amazing school lunches. Even when she feels lazy, the lunches are an array of healthy, colorful food. The perfect toddler tapas. Sometimes I tease her. Sometimes I ask her for advice, but I never thought about taking it personally. Even when my daughter asked me why her lunch isn't like Mason's. "Because I'm not Mason's mommy," I said and she shrugged and asked for cookies.

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I'm perfectly OK with being outshined by Mason's mommy. I'd be fine if my kids had the worst lunches in school. Why? Because I'm not my kids' lunch box.

The first year my daughter went to preschool, I was terrified. I had been homeschooled, so I didn't grow up with my mom packing me a lunch for school. Would my daughter be horrified at my offerings? Would I pale in comparison to the other parents? Would my daughter come home with the sudden realization that she had a subpar parent and demand a new one?

None of my worst fears came true. My daughter still likes me enough. She never criticizes my lunch offerings (OK one time I forgot a spoon for the yogurt). And unless Mitch's mom packs him a cookie, I never hear about what the other kids eat.

You are not your kids' lunch. You are not their clothes. You are not their dance team, swim lessons or tennis team.

Recently, NPR reported on parents making art out of their kids' lunch bags. It's a lovely enough story as it is, but the crux of the piece was that other parents are "[interpreting] lunch bag art as a sort of challenge to their own parenting skills."

To which I say: Shut up.

We live in a world where the Internet brings us face-to-face with parenting decisions and choices we would have never considered. Sometimes that is good, it gives us perspective and perhaps a new way to see through our own struggles. Most often we experience a type of cognitive dissonance, which is the theory that when faced with information that conflicts with their own worldview, people dig in. These parents who take lunch bag art personally? They are digging in.

An erstwhile mom blogger once wrote an entire post dedicated to judging my parenting choices after she read a post I wrote. I wrote to her to explain that I wasn't being prescriptive, I was simply sharing my struggles. She never wrote back. But what I was trying to tell her then and what I want to tell you now is this: Other people's parenting isn't about you.

Got that? You are not your kids' lunch. You are not their clothes. You are not their dance team, swim lessons or tennis team. And should another mom do all of those things better or put her daughter in a two-piece or sign her son up for princess camp, that has nothing to do with you.

We all play to our strengths. I'm a terrible lunch packer, but I excel in making up stories and songs for my kids. It's something we do pretty regularly. I'm also great at not caring about mud, so we have a lot of fun playing outdoors making up stories. These are my strengths. And I hope one day that my kids will get older and see that while Mason's mom packed a mean lunch, their mom told a great story.

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Each family is different because people are different. We all live life in our own ways—they may look similar on the surface, but each small ripple reflects a different light. Life isn't about reflecting someone else's light, life is about reflecting your own light. Mason's mom is a lunch genius. Mitch's mom makes a mean cookie. Someone else's mom is a fabulous lawyer. Another mom is a doctor. Differences shouldn't be perceived as a challenge—something to fight or erase.

I am the mother I am. I can't be anything more. So if you want to make your kid's lunch bags viral art or turn them into fabulous photos while they nap, I will enjoy it and celebrate you. But that's not our bag. We are more of a mud pies and fighting villainous penguins kind of a family. And we like it that way.

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