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Dear Care and Feeding,
I (34F) recently had a friend accuse me of being too strict of a parent, and even a couple weeks later, I’m still bothered by it. I have two boys, 2 and 3, and I have to keep a tight rein on the chaos for the sake of my sanity. My oldest is more reasonable and doesn’t need my eye constantly on him, but my younger one is a tornado and requires constant check-ins and reminders. If I don’t, he’s (and I wish I was joking but I’m not) swinging from the kitchen light or trying to ride the dog—and that was just this morning.
We went to visit the friend in question, and I had to remind my younger one several times not to kick cabinets and to keep his hands to himself before finally cutting our visit short because it just wasn’t working. He’s 2, so that’s just how it goes. I always try to redirect gently or give him something else to do, but I certainly don’t let him run amok, especially in someone else’s home and will correct him firmly when required.
I don’t raise my voice nor will I ever spank my kids, but apparently even then I’m too strict? I’m feeling judged and frustrated on top of being a tired, overworked, over-touched mom of toddlers. I want to clear the air, but everything I put together in my head sounds defensive. Help?
—Mother of Tornadoes
Dear Mother of Tornadoes,
By ending your visit early, you demonstrated that you’re a conscientious parent who cares about the wellbeing of others. I can’t count the number of parents I’ve encountered at gatherings who would do nothing while their toddler tried to drown the family cat or run permanent markers across the floor, so at least you aren’t one of them.
I’d like you to try and worry less about what other people think of you. It’s clear to me that you’re doing everything right in terms of protecting your child and your friend’s property, so I’m confused by why it bothers you. I learned early on in parenting that everyone will have an opinion on how I raise my kids, and the only thing that matters is doing right by my children and ensuring they are safe and happy.
If you want to say something, start by telling your friend how you feel: “It hurts me when you say I’m being too strict when all I’m trying to do is protect my child and your belongings from damage. I’m tired and overwhelmed, and I thought your house would be a safe space, but instead I feel judged.” I can’t speak for your friend, but if someone told me that, I would hug them, apologize, and order their favorite take-out meal. Maybe your friend doesn’t realize how much this irks you; a healthy dose of self-awareness could do the trick.
I think it’s also important to develop a thicker skin when it comes to parenting critiques (especially from non-friends), because it will only get worse once your boys are in school. Focus on the fact that you’re a good mom doing the best you can, and ignore the noise. It’s easier said than done, but with practice, you’ll get there.
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