Like many people, as soon as I got pregnant I became a better person: More concerned (about me), more in tune (with myself), more cognizant (of every physical sensation), more determined than ever to do one thing right from start to finish. That dream died immediately. Over and over again.
It started when I realized I was double-hungry from quitting smoking cold turkey and would soon eat everything in sight, thus gaining "too much weight." It ended when I realized I would not have a "natural" birth as I had hoped. It resumed when I realized I would go for co-sleeping over "sleep training," and hit an all-time high when I learned my child would eat things like REFINED CARBS such as crackers and, what's more, I would be OK with it. There were a million little failures along the way, from never being able to carry my child around in a Baby Bjorn (too fussy), to never being able to take her to brunch with friends while she napped on account of her being a high-needs baby.
Finally, I sank to an all-time low when I accepted that this would not be a princess-free household as I'd envisioned, you know, back when my concept of perfect parenting was still stored behind unbreakable glass in a museum.
Now of course I see clearly that the best-laid parenting plans are hilarious, poorly drawn blueprints, because pregnancy and parenting is nothing if not a comically absurd proof of your vulnerability, fallibility, and sheer mediocre, blustering humanness. That is what it should be, and in seriousness I feel no shame, and yet, through a mixture of bombarding messages of how to correctly gestate and mother, our own powerful self-shame mechanism, plus for many people that website Shminterest, women feel they must not only set a high bar for parenting (not a bad idea) but publicly show grief and remorse when it is not reached (inevitable), even if in lighthearted ways.
But it's more than that. I have friends with kids the same age as mine and younger, and I've noticed we all use this reflexively jokey, self-deprecating way of speaking about our parenting. It's offhand and casual, whether it's admitting a child doesn't get to bed until 10:30 some nights, or that another one refuses to let her hair be brushed, or that for now, our child is only eating plates of beige foods and what can you do because SERIOUSLY WHAT CAN YOU DO SUGGESTIONS IN THE COMMENTS PLZ.
The truth is, I know I am doing a great job because a great job IS doing a good job that is not perfect that includes messing up. We just don't really think of it that way. Regardless, I bristle every time I read anyone's idea of how parenting is a breeze if you just ________. I won't take it from a nanny, from another mother, from Florence Henderson, from anyone, because if it were that simple, well, either literally every person I've ever known is a terrible parent who can't get it right in spite of how easy it is, or someone is lying. (Hint: They are lying).
Why does it take us so long to realize it's not failing to have periods of messiness as you sort out life, existence, sleep, eating, behavior, learning yadda yadda, with your kid? Also: Some of us never realize, and so as parents, we keep offering up little comedy bits of our failures, as if to continually purge ourselves.
So if anyone is still unclear on how to do it wrong, here is a quick list of the easiest ways to fuck it up according to the existing literature, and how to get the most public shaming out of it. Bonus points if you can cut out the chatter and don't even have to explain it to anyone because you've made it so obvious.
Supposed to: only gain 25 pounds.
Reality: Only you and your doctor know.
Max Self-Shame Action: Nothing. It is obvious. Everyone will point it out.
Supposed to: Have a vaginal, drug-free birth.
Reality: 30% national c-section rate
Max Self-Shame Action: Onesie saying MY CHILD IS A CAESAREAN — WHAT OF IT?
Supposed to: Duh, breastfeed for at least six weeks.
Reality: About half of the babies born in 2010 were breastfeeding at 6 months, says the CDC.
Max Self-Shame Action: Laminated copy of child's IQ score to distribute upon making new friends.
Supposed to: Have child sleeping through the night within a week and never bother you again thereafter.
Reality: Couple of years of sleeplessness for you punctuated by several stretches of attempting to sleep train which end with child in your bed.
Max Self-Shame Action: Smugly insist that co-sleeping is better (it is!) in transparent attempt to disguise fact that you failed at sleep training, couldn't go through with cry-it-out method even once.
Supposed to: Cloth diaper through potty training to save money, water, earth.
Reality: Cloth diaper until first mega blowout, immediately switch to disposable.
Max Self-Shame Action: Take months to admit you stopped; struggle with vision of self as good mother of people and earth for life.
Supposed to: Have child with daring palate willing to try diverse range of fruits and vegetables, as well as unique preference for microgastronomic delicacies served only at Alinea.
Reality: The child eats mashed potatoes. Period.
Max Self-Shame Action: Explain child's entire poor eating habit history as main topic of conversation at every dinner with friends to purge fresh shame every two weeks.
PLAYING WITH OTHERS
Supposed to: Be a model child who loves others, plays well, and always expresses kindness.
Reality: Sometimes overhear child barking at others like drill sergeant with surprising effectiveness to do exactly as she says.
Max Self-Shame Action: Publicly curb behavior while acting freshly surprised every time it happens in front of others as if it's literally never happened before and my how surprising I am beet-red with embarrassment!
Supposed to: Banish all princesses, branded toys, terrible cartoons from household in the interest of producing perfect female child who is not too gendered; loves science.
Reality: The child's favorite app is Foot Spa.
Max Self-Shame Action: Write about on popular website.
This is just a start, but as you can see, the opportunities for self-shame over your bad parenting are boundless. The good news is, if you start now, you can try to catch up for the stuff you did in the past, while always making room to keep publicly throwing yourself on your sword in the future — again and again and again. Let's never let up!
Image via Getty.