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.
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
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.