The Internet can be a scary place. Sure, there is a plethora of useful information available faster than you can say Jack Robinson; but there is also an infinite number of unwanted and aggressive opinions. This holds especially true for a new parent.
I have a thirteen-month old. She is a brilliant, hilarious, and determined child who has caused me to question every preconceived notion I had about parenting. At various points in time, I have turned to the Internet, desperate for answers to my parenting woes. Do I let her Cry-it-Out? Really, how bad can co-sleeping be? Will a pacifier cause nipple confusion? How long do I breastfeed? Why won’t she take a bottle? How do you discipline a one-year-old? Will Color Crew rot her brain? Now, let me pause and say there are plenty of very helpful, non-judgmental, well thought out responses to these questions, that I appreciate.
And then there are the responses that make me question whether my child will become a self-entitled brat because I couldn’t handle crying it out, and have rocked her to sleep her whole life.
In short, to summarize everything I learned over the last year: I know nothing, and am doing it all wrong. Ok, I am being dramatic. But it is easy to feel like you are doing it all-wrong. (Or on the flip side, it is easy to feel like you are doing it all right, and everyone else is doing it wrong—I’m talking to you too!) And as I have scrolled through hundreds, if not thousands, of opinions on parenting choices these last thirteen months, I’ve come to a simple conclusion: your parenting choices do not make you a bad parent.
And I have seen bad parents.
In my job, I have seen children exposed to some horrible situations. I’m talking drug abuse and domestic violence. I’m talking satisfying your wants and desires at the expense of your children. The thing is, I don’t categorize those as parenting choices. If you break the phrase down, parenting describes choices. And the people making those kinds of decisions, their choices are not related to parenting. At least not actively. They are living for themselves, ignoring their responsibilities as a parent, and hurting the most vulnerable, precious people on the planet, thereby increasing the chance that the cycle will repeat itself. Those are the wrong “parenting” choices.
Because when it comes to homeschool versus public school, the wrong decision is the one where you don’t care enough about your child’s mind to make sure it is developing.
Because when it comes to breastfeeding versus formula feeding, the wrong decision is the one where you aren’t sure if you’ve even fed them that day.
Because when it comes to screen-time or no-screen time, the wrong decision is the one where you expose your child’s sponge-like brain to sexually explicit material.
Because when it comes to natural-birth versus an epidural, the wrong decision is the one where your baby is born drug-exposed.
The wrong decision is walking away from your child because you don’t want to co-parent with the other half that created the life.
The wrong decision is hiding from the police while your child enters the foster care system because you’re denying you have a drug problem and are avoiding jail time.
The wrong decision is “discipline” that comes in the form of abuse.
So why do we attack the trivial instead of the heinous? Because it’s easier to puff ourselves up than to think about the trauma some children experience. It feels better to engage in a meaningless Facebook debate over vaccines than to find ways to shine a light in the darkest of situations.
There are plenty of wrong decisions, and while you might disagree with someone’s parenting style, they are trying to be a good parent, and that goes a long way. When it comes to any decision, when a parent puts thought, time and energy into making a choice, they are being a parent, and that is a good thing. Cut them some slack.
And the next time you doubt whether you are doing it right, just remind yourself that the parents doing it wrong are the one who aren’t asking themselves that question.
So kiss your child on the lips, or on the cheek. Go cloth diaper, seventh generation or good old pampers. Baby wear or don’t. Circumcise or don’t. Have babies at 20, 25, or 35. Embrace being a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or a combination of the two.
Whatever you do, just be a parent.
Gabby lives in Northern Michigan but daydreams of being a Yooper. She loves Christ, her husband, daughter, and pets.