Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Doing the Best We Can

I've been thinking a lot lately about how other moms treat one another. Blogging 'Bout Boys reader Elise made a very insightful comment to my post Mommy Wars? What Mommy Wars?:

 I think one of the problems in this parenting world comes about when a parent states one of their philosophies but then says "I'm not judging anyone else, this is just the way I do it." In the end, other people still feel judged. My kids are now 15, 18 and 19 but I will give an example of something I did when they were younger to show that I was just as guilty of this as anyone else. I did not spank my kids and I would willingly tell anyone about my philosophies if we happened to get into a conversation about it. I would never be the first to bring it up and I would always make sure that I told them that I thought it was okay for other parents to spank but I just chose not to spank. Looking back I realize now that even though I always said that, I am sure the other parents still felt judged. Even if I said that I wasn't judging them, I probably came off as sounding like I felt superior.

She's right, I think, and I'm as guilty as anyone else. Because you know what? The truth be told, sometimes I did feel superior. Like many of you, I've done a lot of reading and writing and reflecting about parenting. I've read the works of the experts; heck, I've even interviewed some of the experts! Plus I get compliments all the time about how intelligent and polite and pleasant my children are, so I must be doing something right -- right?

Secretly, I have believed that I know the "best" way. In general, I believe that natural childbirth is better for moms and babies, that breastfeeding is better than bottle feeding and that it's important for kids to have a secure attachment to home and family before they venture out into the world. In general, I believe that homeschooling is a wonderful educational option, that children's opinions matter and that kids need lots of time and freedom to play.

But in the last few years, I've come to recognize that most of us are doing the best we can with the circumstances at hand. My divorce taught me that, in a very painful and real way. You see, I still believe that homeschooling is the best educational option for my boys. But my ex doesn't agree, so for awhile, our homeschooled kids took two classes a piece at a local public school. Then the stresses of single parenthood set in. Trying to homeschool while earning enough money to support a family of five is hard, and I realized that I was shortchanging both homeschooling and my job (not to mention myself). I was constantly trying to be in two places at once: if I was upstairs with the kids, I was watching the clock to see when I'd next need to bound downstairs to do an interview. When I was in my office, I'd feel guilty that I wasn't more present for my kids. Homeschooling, the way I liked to do it, requires a fair amount of relaxed and unstructured time, and that simply didn't exist anymore, at least not in great measure.

So I made the difficult decision to send three kids to school full-time this year. That decision has allowed me to concentrate on my work during the day, and to be fully present for my kids in the afternoons and evenings. And things are working out just fine. My kids are thriving, and so is my career.

Through tough experience, I've learned that our circumstances affect our parenting decisions, and that what we say (and how we say it) affects other people. Elise's comment came to mind when I read this comment from Cassandra, written in response to my Helping Boys in a Sex-Soaked Society post:

We don't allow our kids to watch TV or surf the web alone. We homeschool. I have a seven-year-old son and there is no way he has any idea what the word sexy even is. I'm curious about how much media your kids are exposed to? Although the media does show us a very skewed and almost gross portrayal of 'the perfect woman' or what sex is all about.. it's our responsibility to protect our kids from these images and messages, isn't it?

She's not directly judging me, or calling me a bad parent, but it feels that way. Her well-meaning comments seem to imply that if I cared enough, I would make sure that my 6-year-old had no exposure to anything that would remotely smack of "sexy."

But, I want to say, but...
  • He's the youngest of four boys. It's a lot easier to keep the channel tuned to PBS when your oldest child is 7. It's a lot harder when your oldest is 14.
  • Even if I instituted a media-blackout, he'd watch at his dad's. Turning off the TV is a great idea, in theory, but what if both parents aren't on board?
  • I homeschool! Or at least I did, as long as I could. And besides, aren't there many different philosophies of homeschooling?
What I want to say is, I'm doing the best I can!  

I think Casandra could understand that, if we sat down together.  If she knew me and the circumstances of my life, I think she'd understand that I am doing the very best I can with the cards I've been given. 

You are too. And so are the moms and dads around you. Each of brings our past and present to our parenting decisions, and each of us must adapt our parenting style on a daily basis. Every day, we make decisions based on our values and circumstances and yes, on whether or not we've had our caffeine for the day. Sometimes we make good calls; sometimes, we flounder. That's OK. That's part of parenting. The biggest parenting secret of all is that there is no best way; there's only what works for you and your family, in a given moment.



  1. This is an awesome post, Jenny! Like you, I tend to think that I AM doing the "best" things, but I know I can come across as judging just by ASKING, "Oh, you're not nursing? why not?" But then, how do you even start conversations that could be edifying without starting from a point that MIGHT be construed as judge-y? if someone were to say, "I just couldn't make enough milk," I really want to chime in with information on how it was probably more likely that she didn't get enough support, you know?


    1. Hmm, you bring up a really good point. (And an example that I relate to completely). I think I'll be writing more on this topic soon...

  2. There's a blogger I read sometimes who is really sensitive about cloth diapers. I think if someone else is using them, she feels guilty for not using them. As someone who uses cloth diapers, that is frustrating. I truly don't care whether another mom chooses to cloth diaper or not! I definitely agree that we shouldn't judge each other. But what about when we can't stop other people from taking offense?

    1. You can't stop other people from taking offense. Sometimes, I think other people react based on their own fears and doubts and insecurities. Take my example in the post above, Cassandra's comments about protecting our kids from those images and msgs. It strikes an emotional cord with me precisely b/c I secretly worry about the same things. Because I worry that maybe I *have* let him see and hear too much. But that's when I have to remind myself that I am doing the best I can. We tend to expect perfection of ourselves, but that's an unobtainable goal.

  3. Great post, and definitely important for all of us to think about. I know that I have become less "judgy" with age, and I've also become less sensitive to others' comments, trying to give the benefit of the doubt that maybe they're just trying to be helpful because they don't understand or don't have all of the information or haven't had the same experiences I've had. The older I get, the more I think that most of our problems would go away if we all just tried a little bit harder to see things from others' perspectives... It's all about compassion and understanding and loving and forgiving, but we just keep taking it to deeper and deeper levels as we move through life! (In other words, as you said, we're all just doing the best we can!)

    1. Age and experience make such a different, don't they? And isn't that why we're all so happy when our formerly kid-less friends and family members have kids? Because you really do have to have kids to understand how challenging the job is!

  4. I would say get to grips with your "secret" -- you are judging, as we all are :) We choose the course of action we want, presumably for some good reason. Other courses are just ... worse, for us. Just have the maturity to simply not give a rat's butt about how someone else does things. Sure, maybe evaluate it, but once you've decided then there isn't a reason to care about someone else.

    I must say also, though, that a lot of people judge and interfere without evidence. Recently some woman saw me roughhousing with one of my boys just at a certain moment when it looked like I was hurting him, and she just layed into me with her fragment of misinformation, totally ignoring how happy my kid was. I really didn't know what to do about that at the time. People aught to keep an open mind and ask a few internal questions before they're really sure about what they think they know.

  5. Jenni,
    Yes to your words. Homeschooled first 2 but my last 3 I couldn't for various reasons. I often have to ask myself if my behavior makes me feel more spiritual than another, then my heart is wrong.

    And years ago, I would have been shocked to hear the words that are said in my home and watched on my TV today. Oh well. It makes me laugh at my arrogance.

    So thankful for grace and our experience. Beautiful post!