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The Real Problem With Other Parents

Photograph by Twenty20

Recently, I had another mom over for a playdate, and she spent a lot of the time complaining about women who, in her words, "do nothing." I understood she needed to just vent. And I vented with her. She who has not been petty can cast the first stone.

But at some point during our mutual bitch session, we realized we weren't frustrated with these seemingly lazy moms. We were frustrated with ourselves because we couldn't allow ourselves the down time these other women had.

We hated those moms. We were jealous of those other moms.

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Much is made of the mommy wars, which pits mom against mom in the battle of who is doing it the best. And while some of this is just marketing, there is something to it. We are all in this exhausting slog to raise our children, and some days it feels like there is a lot at stake. After all, parents are blamed when children screw up. Children blame parents when they grow up and can't get their lives together. In almost every episode of "Criminal Minds" it's always the parents' fault that the kid grew up to be a serial killer, either by dying too soon or making them watch ritual goat sacrifices.

And I participate in this, too. I side-eye moms making decisions I don't agree with. I silently judge and make catty remarks. I'm not proud of it, but I am human after all.

But perhaps more than our disagreements about the how's of parenting, it's our hidden anxieties that keep us apart.

I have a friend who I don't like very much. Let's call her Heather. Heather is great. She is smart, funny, a wonderful cook and an interesting and engaged woman. She just has one problem: She doesn't fight her kids about food. She refuses. In fact, dinner, lunch, breakfast, she lets them have almost anything they want, within reason of course. She's not feeding them cupcakes all the time. They get their servings of fruit and vegetables, grain and protein. But beyond that, Heather couldn't care less if their food came in a yogurt or a pouch or a plastic cup.

I hate Heather. I love Heather. I fear Heather.

While there is much to be said about the external societal pressures of parenting, so much of the pressure we feel as parents is internal.

I've talked with Heather about this decision. She's told me that her kids are picky eaters and she has to fight them on so many things—homework, baths, not wearing a swimsuit when it's snowing—that this is one battle she chooses not to fight. She laughs when she talks about this. And she can laugh because she's not concerned about her kids growing up not eating. She knows they will eat eventually. Heather herself was a picky eater and will now tell people that she'll "eat anything at least once, even Hemlock."

Heather embodies everything I want to be as a mother, but I can't. For so many reasons, dinner seems to be the hill I will die on. My kids, after beginning their lives as wonderful eaters, are incredibly picky now. My 4-year-old thinks Santa will bring her spaghetti if she's naughty, because that's the worst thing she can think of. And I've taken to making smoothies every morning just to ensure that my 2-year-old gets the proper amount of fruits and vegetables every day because as I tell him, "Man may not live on pretzels alone, buddy. Now eat your damn broccoli!"

We could go into all the manifold reasons I don't cave in like Heather. We could justify them. Mock them. We could tear me down or build me up. But at the end of the day, my problem with Heather isn't Heather, it's myself.

While there is much to be said about the external societal pressures of parenting, so much of the pressure we feel as parents is internal. We think people are side-eying us for giving our kids formula instead of breastmilk, for breastfeeding instead of using a bottle. I think everyone in the checkout aisle is always judging me and my kids who are trying to tumble out of the cart. And maybe they are, but more often, I think they aren't. More often it's just my own internal frustrations and desires made manifest in other people.

I often read open letters from parents to other parents. They are popular blog fodder. But whether they are positive or negative, I find that they are condescending because they presume insight into another person, when all they do is illuminate the writer's own anxieties as a parent.

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Most of the frustrations and irritation we project onto other people as parents say more about us than society as a whole. And while we ought to work to fix society and the way we treat parents (affordable childcare for everyone!), I think we can begin with ourselves.

Or, you know what, you do what you want. But that's what I am going to do.

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