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What I Think About You When Your Child Melts Down

Like anyone without kids, I was once an expert at identifying good and bad parents. It was simple, of course. I'd judge the quality of parents based on what their kids were doing. Screaming child? Prognosis: weak-willed parents. Sweet child smiling at me on the train? Prognosis: Stable mom and dad.

Now that I'm a mom, I realize the error of my ways. I was just catching parents and kids on good or bad days. And everyone I know has both kinds.

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My toddler was recently a vision of perfection at our local library. That morning she was playful, chatty, well-mannered and brought me book after book to read to her. To some of the more frazzled moms there, I must have looked like I was just plain better at this mothering stuff. We've all been there—you see someone who seems to have it all together, meanwhile, your kid is throwing goldfish crackers on the floor, hitting another child or melting into a tantrum.

How your child behaves on any given day tells me very little about how you're raising your kids.

Many of us feel our children are reflections of us, so when they behave exceptionally, you feel great. Ah, but be careful! This line of thinking will have you feeling pretty low when your kids get out of hand. So, while I'm tempted to savor my daughter's shining moment as evidence of my parenting prowess, I know better. My daughter was just having a good day. I've been on the other end just as much—with a toddler who's hungry, tired and forgotten everything we've ever taught her. Or maybe I was the one having the hard day, and lacked the patience and grace I strive for on my best days.

You can't judge a parent or child by a single moment in time.

Maybe the child you're glaring at for having an outburst in public has autism and is suffering through a sensory overload he can't control. Perhaps the kid crying the grocery store is exhausted from all the errands he's been dragged to that day by a mom who doesn't have any help. Maybe the toddlers who are politely sharing their toys are just having a great morning.

Since becoming a parent I've learned there's no real way of knowing you're doing a good job because every day has peaks and valleys.

My measure of a good parent has changed, too. How your child behaves on any given day tells me very little about how you're raising your kids. I'm more interested in the arc of all your days: do you tend toward love, care, understanding? Do you try to do better, particularly at the end of bad days? Do you strive to be the parent your child needs and deserves?

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That would tell me more about you, but it's the kind of information no one can glean from a momentary encounter on any single day of parenthood. Parents and non-parents: let's judge less and try to understand more.

Image via Twenty20/armisan

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