If you have no children, you are free to judge parents, but your opinion means nothing.
When I was completing my education degree, I was given an online login to raise a virtual child. I named her Lucy and responded to various parenting scenarios to produce an end result.
I did a good job. Lucy was well-adjusted, secure, and intelligent.
But I remember thinking – this is not real life. The various pathways to raising secure children are much more fraught with difficulty. They are many and varied, uncertain at times. They are far less linear in real life.
I’ve certainly fallen into the trap of judging parents. I am not innocent by any stretch. I even judged certain parenting styles before having children. Now, I look at certain things other parents do, and think, I would not do that myself. But now I have one of my own, I have a lot more empathy for the daily battles of other parents.
Since having a child of my own, the majority of parental judgment has come from people WITHOUT children.
People who are raising good little virtual children in their mind’s eye.
People who are not living in the real world. You know the kind – they think that anyone less than perfect shouldn’t have children.
Overweight, mentally ill, career-driven, single, young, or less financially secure individuals. Parents who enjoy a drink. They all fall below the imaginary gold standard of parenthood.
Before I had a child myself, I thought I would do everything that is best for my child, no questions asked, and I did judge those I perceived as doing less than the best. I thought I would sooner live off baked beans than see my child go without something.
After all, we had longed for this child for so long.
I planned to stay home for three years. I hoped to breastfeed until toddlerhood. I didn’t want to smack my child. I thought I would be able to live without medications, lest it come through the breastmilk. My child would not have too much TV or too much sugar, or too many clothes.
But that, my friends, is raising a virtual child. That is not real life.
The first to fall off were the breastfeeding wheels. We had a rough start to building up my milk supply because of the severe blood loss I had at birth. We had to set timers and breastfeed him every two hours, then pump, formula feed, put him to sleep, then do it all again two hours later.
It was BLOODY HARD! I didn’t give up, but he did have some formula in those early days. He grew so well and was in the top percentile for height and weight.
At five months, though, I was losing my mind in other ways. I had few Mum friends, was hating playgroup, and I was lonely. When the day care centre opened up next door, we put him in one day a week while I did some paid work.
Far from being detrimental, it has helped his development immensely. I can’t thank his teachers enough. I didn’t last the three years, but he is securely attached and resilient.
At six months, I had a crisis and commenced anti-psychotic medication which I believe saved my life. My milk supply dried up, until I saw a private psychiatrist, who got us started again with an appropriate breastfeeding anti-psychotic.
I felt the sting of judgment from people who had never suffered mental disorders, who all thought I should not be breastfeeding while on medications.
Yet, he coped just fine with no withdrawal – and a medical doctor had approved it.
At nine months, he started biting. No more breastfeeding. I couldn’t deal with the pain, even though I knew breastfeeding was a good thing. During one of his bites, I instinctively gave him a smack on the arm. He bawled his eyes out. Oops. I felt terrible but it was an involuntary reaction.
I had other moments of poor judgment which left me questioning myself as a parent.
As for the TV, sugar, and too many clothes? Let’s just say he lives a charmed life… but he is no worse off for any of these things. He is clever, secure, and thriving.
And he loves The Wiggles.
Unless you’re in the trenches with us, it’s best to reserve judgment. Until you’re raising real life humans, you don’t know how you’ll respond to the challenges. Parenting humbles you in ways that no other life experience really can.
It is actually best to put yourself first, lest you end up a burnt out, bitter, resentful parent – which is way worse for a child than being a little selfish on occasion.