Dear Perfect Parent

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I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’ve come along. I’ve spent 14 years now wondering how to do this parenting thing right, convinced so many days that I’ve done it totally wrong, and now you’re here to confirm what I long suspected. I suck as a parent.

But luckily, you don’t. You know exactly what to do, right? You’ve got the right answer for every situation this parenting thing can throw at us. I mean, you must, because I’ve seen the free advice you’ve been doling out–especially lately.  Can you spare me five minutes of your time before you go wring your hands and wag your tongue over the next parent who society thinks needs a public skewering? Because I so obviously need the help.

There have been a bunch of times over the past years when I’ve wondered whether I did things right, reacted correctly, punished accordingly, ignored appropriately, etc. I’m sure I can’t remember them all, but I’ll do my best to bring up a few. I’d really like to get some professional pointers from you, since you so obviously have your shit together, and I so obviously don’t. In no particular order, can you let me know:

  • When I thought my infant with eczema was entirely too young to use steroid cream on, was I being a hypochondriac, or worse–one of those damn tree huggers?
  • When my husband and I let the kids cry it out at bedtime–were we cruel? And when one of the kids kept crying past the point that it seemed safe, and we went up there to cuddle them some more, were we just weak-willed wusses?
  • When I refused to buy white bread and bought only whole wheat bread, and never cut the corners off sandwiches, but my daughter still hated the crusts, did my refusal somehow trigger a nature vs. nurture scenario?
  • What about that day that I took both the kids shopping at a local shoe store and, for some still-unknown reason, one of my children, who has never been beaten a day in their life, threw themselves down on the store floor and started screaming, “Don’t beat me, mama. Don’t beat me!” Should I have yanked them off the floor and out the door, and beaten them just to make things right, or pulled them off the floor and asked them what the heck was going on?
  • When my 5 year-old decided that she was going to run away because we didn’t do something she wanted, should I have helped her pack, with my heart in my throat, hugged her tightly, and told her I loved her, hoping reverse psychology would work? Or should I have locked in her room until she came to her senses, and then punished her when she finally did?
  • When I called the driver in front of me an “idiot” and the kids starting chirping “idiot” in the backseat, should I have distracted them by uttering silly words like “pineapple” and “pumpernickel”? Or should I have taught them other bad words, since the drivers on these roads aren’t getting any better?
  • When I let a wave roll my daughter, in the hopes that she’d finally gain a healthy fear of the ocean (which she obviously didn’t possess, even though she was too young to swim), was that well-intentioned or just mean? Should I have simply thrown her a little further in?
  • When my son was diagnosed with a severe tree nut allergy, was it because I ate too many almonds, walnuts and pecans while I was pregnant, or too few? And do you think forcing him to eat some to “grow out of” the allergy is better advice than the allergist’s, who says that my son’s reaction to walnuts could still be life-threatening?
  • When I briefly considered buying one of those “child leash” thingamajigs because one of my children loved to wander, but didn’t because I both cared what people thought and couldn’t get the stigma about it out of my own head, I was right, right? Even when I stopped her from getting into the goat enclosure at the local zoo? Or should we have just adopted a dog and walked the two of them together?
  • Where did I go wrong with my daughter, who insists that every bug found in the house not be squashed like, well, the bug it is, but instead be carried and gently set down somewhere outside? Seriously, aren’t things further down the evolutionary ladder just put here on earth for us to kill?
  • When I took my kids to those pool playdates where they were the only neurotypical ones and the other kids were at varying places on the autism spectrum, did I invariably teach them something? Because just the other day my daughter high-fived and congratulated a fellow performer at their school’s talent show, even though he had autism. How can I undo this damage?
  • And you’re going to just slap me over this one. We exposed our children to both heterosexual and homosexual friends as they were growing up, so now my son’s close friends include at least one lesbian and somebody who’s this thing called “gender fluid.” Should I just write grandchildren out of our future plans?

Oh, and just to throw a couple of oldie-but-goodies in the mix, because I always had doubts about my own parents. When my sister and I were really little and shared a bedroom, and it was nap time but instead of resting we were jumping from her bed to mine and back again, and she ended up putting her head through the window; or when she was even younger and jumped off the top of the jungle gym at preschool to see if she could fly–what should my parents have done to her? Because it was pretty obvious early on that she was a delinquent, years before she became one of the doctors for a U.S. Olympic team. Somebody should probably have clipped her wings. Am I right?

Wait, what’s that you say? Speak up–I can barely hear you. You don’t have any kids? You’re not even a parent? I’m totally confused now. I thought you were the perfect parent! I mean, from the things you wrote all over the Internet, and especially on social media, I thought you had it all figured out.

What? You don’t need to have kids to know what to do with them? How’s that? Ohhhh, you had parents and you know how THEY did it. Yeah, I thought that too. Once. Oh sorry–didn’t realize you were still talking. What? Oh, right. Your parents did a great job, if you say so yourself.

Are you sure about that?

©2016 Rachel L. MacAulay All Rights Reserved

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