To the parents I use to judge before I was a parent myself….I’m Sorry

I have come to realize many things since having my son six years ago. For example, I now know that I can listen to all things train related all day every day without going insane. No matter what people say, throw-up is throw-up and I don’t care if it is my kid who is throwing up but his throw-up makes me want to throw up. Also just as you think you’ve just smelt the smelliest of dirty diapers, there will be one so much worse. I’m sorry, it’s bound to happen.

But perhaps one of the biggest realizations I’ve made as a parent is how incredibly judgmental I was pre-child. Only thing in my defense is that I was young and very stupid when it came to parenting.

You, the parent at Walmart who pushed a cart with your screaming toddler draped on the rack underneath it, ignoring them as they scrape their feet on the floor because they couldn’t have the toy they wanted: I judged you.

Parent at the lake who did not pack an all-food-groups-represented, no-dessert lunch complete with sandwiches cut in cute little shapes, who instead fed your children chicken nuggets, cold French fries and (gasp) chocolate milk? I judged you.

Not out loud, of course. But internally, yet again I was stupid and thought how I would do it so much different. I thought things like “I would never have children who would behave in such a manner in public” or “Don’t they know that many Pediatricians recommend no TV until the age of 2?” or, “How can they possibly be feeding their children that crap?” And what’s worse, now that I’m a parent, I realize internal smugness isn’t so internal. As a parent, I know when I’m being judged. I can sense it, even when nothing is being said out loud. It’s in the look. The double-take. The whisper to the companion they’re with.

It’s hard not to care about what other people think. But still, that quiet judgment can sting, especially on days when my nerves are shot and my son is in the worst moods — a combination that often leads to a situation judge-worthy by many.

My day-to-day routine isn’t what I envisioned it to be many years ago. Some of the things I imagine I’m judged on now are minor, others, a little more major. For example my son being on the Autism Spectrum enjoys technology and life for him (me as well) can be much happier if he has his tablet longer then others would allow their children. I see the judgmental looks and a few times have heard the “He’s far to old to be riding in the shopping cart?” or “Seriously he needs to have her cell phone that close to his face” comments.  But mostly they are simple faults and I now know that they don’t make me a bad parent.

Sometimes I cave and let my kid have that second/third or fourth treat. I use technology as a way to take a breather most days. I utilize the free cookie for kids in the grocery store to get a moment of silence so I don’t forget getting the damn granola bars for a third time. I bribe. I’m sometimes too easy on my kiddo, but other times I’m sometimes too hard. I sometimes make the wrong decision, give the wrong punishment, ask too much, ask too little. But within all these minor and major faults is a singular truth: Most days, I’m doing the best I can. And I honestly believe that’s a truth that can be applied to most parents: Most days, we’re all doing the best we can with what we have.

Because here’s another realization I’ve made as a parent: Everyone’s situation is different. There is a story behind every action and inaction. Every parent has his or her own style. Every child has his or her own temperament. What might be a stellar day for my son and me may be a downright awful day for another — perhaps the parent’s job is in danger, their parent is sick or they just had an argument with their spouse. Perhaps the child is failing math or being bullied at school, or the toddler hasn’t slept for two weeks. This can explain the short-temper in the grocery store or the harsher-than-necessary punishment, or the lack of care when it comes to sweets or TV or a late bedtime. We don’t know, can’t know, someone’s entire story.

That said, I believe there are absolutes in parenting so yes, sometimes, I still judge (I realize that the irony of this piece is that in writing about not judging others, I’m now judging those who judge). I know that, for some, it’s next to impossible to provide their children with life’s basic necessities: food, clothing and shelter. But I believe we, as parents, must try. I believe we must do what we can to protect our children from harm. I believe we should always love our children, even when, especially when, we don’t like their actions, we disagree with their decisions or we’re just having a difficult day with them.

But everything else is minor. Everything else doesn’t matter. There are children who are abused, who go to bed hungry, who have never known love, and not so long ago I was judging the parent of a toddler who watched hours of “Sesame Street“.

I feel bad about my pre-children smugness. I feel bad about the sting I may have, unknowingly, made another feel. I feel bad — and laugh out loud at the thought — that I, at one time, before I had a child, believed I knew better. Parenting is difficult enough — there’s no reason we should judge one another, not for the things that don’t matter, anyway, and not for the things we see a snippet of rather than knowing the full story.

So to the parents I knew a little over six years ago, I’m sorry.