When John was at the start of his toddler life, I — being the planner I am — started planning. I made “busy bags” filled with various quiet, stimulating, non-electronic crafts and activities that we could grab and bring with us to restaurants or wherever else we might need to sit and wait for a while. When I’d pull out these bags, I’d like to say I was totally engrossed in young John and his creative and academic pursuits.
That’s totally a lie, though.
When I’d pull out the bag, I’d say (a little louder than was totally necessary), “let’s find a fun activity!” Out of the corner of my eye, I’d scan the room for other parents and see if anyone else was watching me, watching us. We are basically saints, I’d think smugly, the patron saints of parenting. Other parents clearly wanted to be us. Older parents with a distrust of technology would see the family playing on the iPad and grimace, but see us playing with our (homemade!) play-doh, and think “finally, hope for the future.”
And then I had a second kid.
That brings us to today, where I sat inside a restaurant with my two hungry children. All I wanted to do was sit and drink coffee and think about Harry Potter, but that was nothing Ev was going to allow to happen. He fidgeted, he yelled “CHAIR!” at all of the many chairs he happened to keenly notice, he waved at strangers, he clapped for babies, he climbed out of his high chair, he tried to eat salt. Through it all, John read. We had been to the library previously, and he was completely engrossed in one of his new finds. I had no busy bag for Ev. His diaper bag was still out in the car. I had crayons that came with a children’s menu, but those ended up on the floor several times, so they lay abandoned. Finally, wearily, I picked him up and took out my trusty phone. While we waited for food, we played a game called “Easy Music.” There was peace.
As Ev happily played, I could feel the eyes of people judging me. There’s another electronic-obsessed baby contributing to the downfall of the next generation, they thought. I wanted to stand up and announce, “HE NEVER HAS SCREEN TIME AT HOME. THIS IS A ONE TIME THING.” I didn’t, of course, because that would only make them judge me more.
Then I looked at my table. I had one kid reading independently and another learning to distinguish between high sounds and low sounds. This was practically school, you guys. The boys were happy, the boys were engaged. I was calm. I wasn’t ripping a salt shaker out of anyone’s hands.
And when all was said and done? I’m not actually sure anyone in the restaurant was judging my parenting. (If they were, they kept it pretty quiet, so kudos.) I am my own worst critic as a mom. I compare, I criticize. I put the judgement and blame on myself instead of looking at what my kids really need. Ev probably needed some one on one time learning about music with his musically-trained mom. The app on my phone is a better medium for that than anything else I can bring on the go. John needed some time to get lost in a book. And before you think “oh, good for him, books are so good” — number one, I agree with you, and number two, the main theme of his book centers around a giant, metallic butt (Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare). So, I mean, there’s that.
I think there’s a great possibility that all of the “mommy wars” come from our personal feelings of inadequacy. That is to say — I will fight you for parenting differently than me because I don’t have complete confidence in what I’m doing. Or I think I’m failing overall. Or I’m having a bad day and you’re having a good one.
At the end of the day — are your kids healthy? Are they full? Warm? Clean? Are you worrying about them or exhausted because of them? If you can say “yes” to most or all of these questions, I don’t care if you make busy bags or turn on Netflix. You shouldn’t either. Stop caring about what other people might think. If you care about your kids, you’re doing it right.