Parents, will you be judged as you venture out of the house with kids? Take the test!

I see you have decided to leave your house with your children, you foolish, foolish person.

Do you think you can avoid comments, judgmental stares, or eye rolls from friends, family members, and complete strangers as you exist in the world with young humans? Take the test and see! 


First up: getting somewhere.

I see you have a baby in tow. Do you…

Take a stroller?

Oh, I’m sorry, your baby will always feel neglected and pushed away, because you are literally pushing them away. Your child will never know what it is to feel loved. 

Wear the baby?

Ugh, guess you’re one of those parents, then? Can’t cut that umbilical cord? Do you need your baby close to you? They’ll never grow up to be individuals capable of making decisions now. 


Next, an activity.

Phew! You made it to the park! Now while you’re here do you…

Sit down and watch your kids play?

You’re a neglectful parent who probably allows their kids to *gasp* go up the down part of the slide. Your kids will become criminals who can’t operate successfully in society. 

Go around the park playing with them? 

You’re a hovering, overprotective helicopter parent who makes your child’s life too easy and are too involved with their lives for them to operate successfully in society someday. 


Deciding where to eat

Uh oh, you’re out and need to eat somewhere other than your own home. It’s time to make some decisions on where to eat. Do you… 

Opt for a kid-friendly fast food place? 

Seriously?!? You’re going to feed them that junk? It’s 2020! You’ve gotta be kidding, right? That stuff is so gross for them! It’s. Not. Even. Organic. 

Go eat at a real (not-too-fancy, but sit-down) restaurant? 

Restaurants are for adults, not for children. It doesn’t matter that in order for children to learn how to eat at restaurants they have to actually practice eating at restaurants, which means going to restaurants. It doesn’t matter if the restaurant has a kids’ menu. There are other adults there without children, and your children’s presence there will ruin their day. 


Actually eating out

You sit down at your food establishment of choice, are seated, and the kids are getting a little antsy in their pantsies after they’ve doodled with crayons on the paper placemat. Nothing too raucous, but they’re starting to get bored and the food hasn’t arrived yet. Do you…

Hand them your phone? 

You’re not even going to engage with your kids?!? Ugh, what are you teaching them about human interaction? Have you not read the millions of articles about limiting screen time? What is wrong with you?? 

Not hand them your phone? 

Can’t you keep your kids quieter?!? Why can’t they behave like adults? Isn’t there some sort of screen you can hand them? 


Riding on the train

You need to get across the city? It’s time to take the train! Do you…

Sit next to them and read them a book of poetry at a reasonable, conversation-level volume*? 

Eye roll. Ugh. Can’t you be quiet? Do I have to hear you speak, to your child, no less? What is this, some sort of public space where people are allowed to engage and talk to each other? 

Hand them your phone/electronic device?

Seriously? Seriously?! Can’t you connect with your kids? We just went over this. Have them look out the window! Play games with them! It doesn’t matter that if you were on the train alone, you would be looking at your phone. That’s entirely beside the point for some reason. 

*This is not hyperbolic. This literally happened to me. 


Feeding your kid a snack

It’s a long time between your meal and the next one, and your kids are hungry and tired from all the activities they’ve been doing. Plus, they’re usually fed a snack at school around this time. Do you…

Hand them a snack? 

You know, the French don’t snack at all. Why can’t you be more like the French, despite neither being French nor living in France? Shouldn’t they be eating something healthier? Why are you feeding them junk? 

Not hand them a snack?

Can’t you see they’re hungry? Kids need to eat more regularly! They’re growing! Now they’re angry and hungry and getting whiny. Why didn’t you plan ahead more? You should have known they would get hungry! 


Breathing

You need to take a breath of oxygen in order to stay alive as it is a basic function of human existence. Do you…

Breathe?

That is now one breath of oxygen on this planet your children cannot inhale, you selfish cretin. 

Not breathe?

You have passed out and possibly died. However, you will still be responsible for all snack and beverage requests from your children, regardless of the status of your consciousness.


So, how did you do? Did you avoid getting judged? You didn’t?!? Wow, it’s almost like the game is rigged against parents or something.


My House Looks Like Two Young Children, Two Tired Adults, and a Dog Live Here.

(And I just can’t be sorry about that anymore.)

Hello! It’s so good to talk to you! Would you want to come over here some time and hang out while the kids play? I can offer you tea, water, fizzy water that may or may not ruin your teeth depending on which article came out last week, coffee, and wine while we chat. You would? WOW! This is great news! 

There is one thing, though, and this is hard for me to admit. You’ll see it when you walk in. The thing is… 

My house looks like two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here. 

There’s really a good explanation for it, I promise. You see, it’s because two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here. 

I’ve been to many, many houses where there are more children or more dogs and just as many tired adults who live there, but it does not look like it. I marvel at houses like that. I want to live in those houses. 

But the thing is, my house is not those houses. And right now, it will not be those houses. My house looks like two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here. 

I might have piles of unfolded laundry surrounding the dryer. In fact, I will definitely have piles of unfolded laundry surrounding the dryer. Sometimes they’ve been there a day. Other times they’ve been there a week. I’ll get to them tonight, I’ll say to you. They’re now a fixture of the house tour. And no matter how long I spend folding clothes, the piles of laundry keep growing and changing, and that is just how it is. 

My chairs look like people have sat and eaten Goldfish crackers in them for years. The throw pillows for my couch have a 30% chance of still being on the couch from the time I get up to let you in to the time you walk in the door. My children apparently have declared throw pillows an enemy of the sofa, and have waged war on them with a dogged determination I can only see as impressive at this point. My dog will most certainly have climbed into the exact spot you will want to sit in this opening-the-door-to-walking-in time as well. 

There are strollers in our living room because we use at least one of the strollers every day. I could spend time hiding them somewhere else in my home, but I could also spend time…not doing that. 

Every flat surface over the height of 5 feet has something fragile placed on it, not because they look good, but because otherwise they would most certainly be broken by now if placed anywhere else. 

I don’t say these things to frighten you away. I say these things because I have spent too much of my time worried that my house looks like two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here. And I refuse to let myself miss out on the connections I would otherwise make because I’m actually embarrassed by the fact that my house looks like two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here. 

If you’re here, know that I want you here. I want you to come in and be part of my life, so I can be a part of yours. I want to laugh with you, commiserate with you, learn from you, and discuss the terrible television I watch instead of making my house look better. I can bring over the boxed wine, schlep the throw pillows back onto the couch, and talk until it’s time for you to leave. 

I would love for my house not to look like two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here, but the fact of the matter is: it does. And I wish I could be sorrier about it. 

That’s all I wanted you to know. 

So…how does next Saturday sound to you? 

You parent like an American.

In recent years one fact has emerged as a base assumption in all parenting literature: Americans are terrible at parenting.

Luckily for us American parents we can take comfort that apparently so are Canadians, Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis. Sorry to say it, guys: overwhelming politeness and/or endearing accents aren’t enough to get by this go-around. Chances are, according to the parenting literature of books, pamphlets, parent groups, and whispers in the wind, if you’ve given birth and are in the process of not-letting-your-progeny-die (also known as “raising children”) as an American, Canadian, Brit, Aussie, or Kiwi, you’re doing it wrong.

According to this mountain of literature, you can tell you’re guilty of being a terrible American* parent if your child between the ages of 0 and 30 exhibits any of the following behaviors at any time: is a picky eater, cries too much, cries too little, doesn’t sleep well, throws temper tantrums, uses a pacifier, has too much independence, has too little independence, doesn’t exhibit expert conflict resolution skills, eats snacks, tests boundaries, likes to get dirty, doesn’t like to get dirty, talks a lot, talks too little, wants to go to school, or doesn’t want to go to school.

I feel his face says, "You are a terrible American parent and you are holding me back from my cool Eurokid potential."Do any of these sound like your child? Well then, the problem isn’t that your children are human beings, the problem is apparently rather their parents speak English. Simply put: you parent like an American.

I am the first to admit I personally first bought into the notion of “chic, generally northern European parents do parenting better” hook, line, and sinker with Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé, a book I have talked about many times before in this blog. I still reference back and re-read portions of this book when things aren’t going particularly well for me in the parenting department and I need to calm down and re-center my beliefs about independence and boundaries. Toward my due date and my nesting instinct kicked in I read French Kids Eat Everything and vowed never to allow my children to snack, eat on the go, or be picky about anything. Ever. (Please feel free to continue reading once you compose yourself from your laughing fit I assume you are throwing.) As my firstborn got older and I looked toward firming up my own “educational philosophy” I started devouring articles about the Finnish school system and their lack of pressure on young children – play-basedno forced reading until age 6 or 7! – all with better educational outcomes. I ripped through The Danish Way of Parenting and found many of the themes in the other books, but was fascinated by the idea of hygge, which as far as I can understand it translates to, “that feeling you get when you’re all cozy and happy with close friends and family.” It seems to be no coincidence that we English-speakers don’t have a word for this, n’est pas? I watched in awe of the slew of videos of young – 3 years old, sometimes! – Japanese children able to do things many American kids couldn’t even fathom doing at ages 8, 9, 10 nowadays, things like go to the corner grocery store and pick up a few items for the family, or walk to school by themselves. There is now a new book I have not yet had the chance to read – but it’s on my list! – about German parenting and highlights German children’s expert conflict resolution skills called Achtung Baby.

The theme of these books, articles, and essays is consistent: other countries have a generally unanimous view of what raising children should be, there are no “mommy wars” in these countries, and their children are better behaved, better eaters, better educated, and more independent than the dependent monsters we raise here.

Of course, there’s an inherent flaw with this literature I have yet to see addressed fully: those parents live there, and we live here.

Our children are supposed to eat like the French, argue like the Germans, be educated like the Finnish, love togetherness like the Danish, and be independent like the Japanese, all while their parents live in a society that in no way supports any of these endeavors.

It’s a question to which I have no answer for: sure, these books and articles about other ways of parenting are wonderful, and demonstrate the better outcomes for families as a whole. Yet, how does one actually go about implementing them on a day-to-day, non-conceptual level when you don’t live in these other countries, countries where you are not only supported in raising your children that way, but rather expected to? If I believe (and I do) that “hunger is the best seasoning” and that arriving at dinner without snacks filling my son’s belly will all but eliminate pickiness, how do I reconcile that when I am out and about and every other child’s mom whips out a delicious fruit gummy snack every hour? Yes, the books about French parenting tout that waiting is an important life skill, but if in France all the children are equally waiting for their meals without snacks it makes the entire experience infinitely easier. The temptation to beg for a bag of Goldfish crackers would simply never present itself. The problem of being a little bit hungry and watching every other child eat in front of you doesn’t exist in these other countries where children don’t generally snack. The lessons we are teaching children are fundamentally different when presented in different conditions.

“Mothers must take care of themselves” is another lesson with which I wholeheartedly agree in the pages of “Americans are parenting wrong” literature. Learning that parents exist outside of their children is a vital life lesson for children. It’s also a life lesson more easily learned with high-quality, free/subsidized** childcare available en masse. Back up even further and ensuring a maternity or paternity leave for parents is not something that is available in America, nor will it be in the near-to-distant future. (Non-American English-speaking parents of course can now sneer down at us as being with Papua New Guinea and Suriname as the only countries in the world without guaranteed parental leave.) Yes, self-care and healing are vital to all parents, we can agree after reading these books and articles. But doing so without spending an astronomical amount of money on babysitters or lost wages is very often not feasible in this country.

I keep coming back to this dialogue for almost every topic with which I completely agree in these books and articles. I want my children (and others!) to play and learn through interactions with each other for the first formative years of their life and early schoolhood, and yet our schools seem to be losing this concept. I truly believe in allowing children to attempt to resolve their own conflicts early and often as practice for later in life, yet actually allowing this to happen in America with other American parents can almost amount to getting Child Protective Services called on me. I want my child to feel comfortable and independent enough to walk to the park down the street by himself when he’s older, but I also would prefer not to land in jail.

For every time I find myself nodding my head in adamant agreement I also become baffled as to how to put these theories into practice in a different culture with different parenting norms, expectations, and support structures (slash, lack thereof).

What I find most infuriating, of course, is that for every article I see posted by my friends on social media about letting kids play freely, working out their own issues, and driving independence, I have struggled immensely to see this philosophy in action with other American parents. Of course we always talk bigger game on social media than our three-dimensional selves are ready to play, but I am nevertheless shocked every time I get a death glare when I don’t immediately jump in to mediate my children’s conflicts with others. “But didn’t you share an articles about not doing what you’re doing with no fewer than three touchdown hand emojis?” is a sad thought I have, quite literally, thought to myself on multiple occasions.

The issue of starting to think in the language of emojis aside, I don’t have a solution to this problem. In fact, I don’t even have a suggestion. (If you have any insight, please let me know.) The popularity of these “American-parents-do-it-wrong” books and articles is telling that I’m not the only one who is desperate for another way of doing things. However, at some point we have to call a spade a spade about parenting in America. The menus and food offered to children are almost universally tan and fried and I certainly have no idea how to change the restaurant industry. We have a culture where the expectation of running interference in children’s conflicts is simply expected. Finding schools that emphasize play and soft skills like interpersonal development rather than reading before age 5 is either impossible, next to impossible, or prohibitively expensive. Guaranteed parental leave, prenatal, and postnatal care is a laughable concept in 2018. Because we are unable to allow our children a free moment to themselves we have overpacked their schedules to such a degree there are articles talking about trying to figure out “one meal a week” where everyone can take 15 minutes to sit down together. Once a week! Our social trust is declining to such a rate that often children are not allowed to cross the street to walk to school, let alone down the block to go to the store.

As a parent I try to be the change I want to see in the world. My biggest phrase on the playground is yelling from afar, “You can do it, try it yourself first!” and not, “Oh my gosh, be careful, no no no, here, let me help you!” I stand back when my kids have a conflict to see if they can peacefully work things out. (Which, spoiler alert, they usually can. Next time you jump in watch how all the kids see a mediator come in and fall apart – you’ve taken the motivation for them to resolve anything internally because they know someone else will do it. The switch is immediate but palpable.) I let my kid go “up” the “down” part of the slide because I think playing is sacred and my adult rules and impositions have no place in his learning how to think outside the box and test limits safely. I am only considering schools that emphasize play in the early years, give children ample recess, and value independence and self-starting.

There are immense limitations to implementing these “other” parenting styles touted in the “look at other parents in other countries” literature, though. As much as I try to limit snacking I know that it’s part of our culture, and trying to put my kids on a “French” eating schedule in America isn’t feasible because at school they’ll snack and are annoyingly accustomed to it. I want to maintain some level of social acceptability among my parenting peers and so I do end up coming in to mediate conflicts much more than I’d like. Finding time as a family for hygge would quite frankly require a monumental shift in American work culture as a whole. We are losing an immense amount of social trust, which can at least partially explain why children in Japan are able to go out and perform tasks Americans cannot fathom.

None of these barriers really stack up to our biggest limitation, though: Americans’ intense desire to judge each other. That earlier example about kids going “up” the “down” part of the slide? It’s not hypothetical. This is a real life thing parents debate. I happen to fall on the, “If climbing up the slide will burn energy off, climb on, and if you have been warned about others coming down and get knocked down yourself, then that’s a lesson you’ll only have to learn once.” It has become abundantly clear over the years that other parents do not feel this way. What happens in America is then these differences come to define us, instead of our similarities. This isn’t limited to parenting, of course, as anyone with a pulse and access to the world around them can tell. But with every difference and camp we divide ourselves into, our village gets smaller. Our social trust erodes that much more. Humans love categorizing things and finding themselves in these categories. Dog or cat person. Tea or coffee person. Free-range or helicopter parent. Stay-at-home or work-outside-the-home. Up-the-down-part-of-the-slide or down-the-down-part-only. These ideas and theories make us feel part of a community, but our communities are growing further-reaching and, sadly, sparser.

I think there’s something deeper in our obsession with other cultures and their parenting styles. Maybe at the core of these books and texts about other countries is a sense that those parents are more supported, both by the culture and infrastructure at large and by each other. The books and articles almost always portray parents who go about the day-to-day parenting without the fear of wrath of other parenting cliques. A parenting choice is simply looked at as a choice, not a declaration of a side in the “mommy wars.” We read about what’s working in other countries not just to learn about what we can do and take into our own lives, but also to get a hopeful glimpse into what we wish we felt as a parent when we ourselves make a million little decisions every single day that amount to raising children. This doubt we impose on ourselves in parenting is lifted when we imagine ourselves simply existing in our family units as we see best fit. I think maybe that’s the true appeal in these parenting books, and maybe the hardest lesson of all to integrate.

Whether or not you agree with the premise behind the mountain of literature in the “here’s how other countries do parenting” category, I have personally found it intensely difficult to consistently reconcile my own beliefs with which I agree in these books with the realities of American parenting. I will never be the chic French mom who does not want a cupcake at snack time. Allowing children to fully self-mediate like the Germans results in my being barred from every parenting get-together known to mankind. My kids will go to school in America, not Finland, and finding a school that fits my educational philosophy has been a trial I can no longer think about without needing a glass of wine. My husband’s work schedule means I am lucky if I see him for half an hour at night, so our hygge is a wonderful theory, but sadly remains largely theoretical. If I allowed my children outside like the Japanese, even when they’re older, I would more than likely have the cops called on me.

The crux of the matter is, I find myself parenting like an American because I am an American. I think now that we understand what it is we like about these other societies we can frame American parenting into what we want that to mean. My hope is that it means more setting up a village, and less setting up war camps.

And maybe some wine with our cupcakes.

 

*For the sake of ease, I shall henceforth lump the native English-speaking parents into one group and refer to us as “Americans,” because, 1) I am an American and most of my readership is, too, and, 2) many non-English speakers automatically assume English-speakers are American, especially when they are doing something they don’t approve of, such as parenting in English.

**Yes, yes, yes, “free” means “taxpayer-funded.”

My life described in exactly 6 charts

It has been almost 5 (!!!) months since I walked over half a mile while in labor to the hospital to deliver my littlest humanchild Daphne.

I have learned a few things in this period of time, such as:

  • There is a rogue fifth person in our house, and I say that only because that would explain the amount of laundry I do*.
  • Two children is, in fact, much harder than one.

Okay, so maybe learning things isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse right now.

A question I seem to come across and yet have no answer for is what my life looks like these days. For being as exhausted as I am, surely I must have an answer to this simple quandary, yet I am continuously at a loss for what to tell people when asked what I do at home. I realized recently instead of trying to produce words out of my face (you know, also known as speaking coherently) perhaps I could instead show everyone what I’ve been up to lately.

And so, I present to you fine folks these 6 graphs describing my life at any given moment these days. Please enjoy.


On choices:


On past lives lived:


On being forced to confront your own limitations:


On time management:


On discipline:

 


On making conversation:

 

 


*E.T., if you’re reading this, just come out, dude. I’m not going to turn you in, I promise**!
**Unless your clothes are dry-clean only. In that case the gloves are off.