Anyone who says that childishness is solely the province of children has obviously never spent much time in modern parenting circles. It’s a sad fact of life that some people never grow out of being bullies—they just get older, meaner, and richer (although no less likely to steal your lunch money).
Being a mom these days is hard; there’s a pressure to be perfect that many previous generations of parents simply never felt. Modern moms are expected to nurture their brilliant little organic humanitarians with esoteric taste in music, and in the quest for modern parenting’s brass ring—a scholarship to Yale or a MacArthur genius grant—many moms end up so desperate to prove what a great job they’re doing that they end up making other moms feel like they’re failing.
Whether it’s the president of the PTA, a member of your playgroup, or even the parent of the kids next door, everyone knows women (and men) who make a point of belittling and berating other parents. Gone are the days when silly disagreements could be fought out at the bike rack after school, but there are still ways to deal with sanctimonious mothers who think they always know best.
The Green Meanie
This mom purées her own baby food from organic veggies she grows herself. She uses cloth diapers, dye-free bamboo fabric, cruelty-free lotions, and PBA-free plasticware, and she may even eschew vaccines in order to prevent her precious angel from ever coming into contact with a single chemical. All that effort may make her feel superior to the terrible monsters who let their children play with traditional toys instead of lead-free wooden blocks, but don’t forget that organic living is just a lifestyle choice, not a surefire path to healthier, happier, or smarter kids. So just relax about buying your baby shampoo at Wal-Mart instead of Whole Foods. When confronted by a mom who can’t fathom that not everyone has time to farm her own mangoes for hand-churned sorbet, ask her whether the landfill space saved by using cloth diapers really mitigates the carbon footprint of the delivery drivers and industrial machines her diaper service uses.
The Braniac Maniac
“You haven’t signed up your infant for preschool-entrance test prep yet?” wonders this mother of an overachiever. “How will he get into a good college if you don’t start now?” The parents of any child who’s simply playing or having fun must surely be unfit, because for this mom it’s all about enrichment, whether it’s Baby Einstein videos, Omega-3-enriched brain foods, electrolyte-enhanced water, SAT prep, summer violin camp, or extracurricular activities that are sure to make Baby smarter and look great on a college application. Well, Baby Einstein videos have been proven a scam, as have most “enrichment” aids for young children. Test prep can be valuable for high schoolers looking to go to a competitive college, but up until then, the experiences of goofing off, playing, and just being a kid are invaluable. Plus, allowing a child to be a child can save parents money on therapy costs later.
The Food Freak
Her child brings his own snacks when he comes to play. She crusades against birthday cake at school, and not only does she never allow her child to indulge in sweets, soda, candy, white flour, or any other food foe du jour, she also tries to make sure that yours doesn’t, either. Childhood obesity is a serious concern, and her intentions to keep kids healthy and slim may be noble, but the next time she asks you how you could ever allow your child to enjoy a Popsicle on a hot summer day, simply say, “You know, it’s impossible to keep kids away from junk food forever. Rather than make it seem more appealing by restricting it, we prefer to teach our child moderation. Don’t you think that’s more realistic?”
Not breastfeeding your child is akin to child abuse, according to this know-it-all mom, who constantly extols the supposed benefits of breastfeeding: Calmer tummies! Fewer colds! Higher IQs! Every mother and every child is different, and whether or not to breastfeed remains a decidedly personal choice. After all, it’s not as if you can pick out the bottle-fed kids on the playground by their sickly pallor or lack of vitality. There are perfectly legitimate medical and personal reasons not to breastfeed, so any time a lactivist starts in on a lecture about the evils of the bottle, simply say, “I don’t feel comfortable discussing my personal medical history with you, but my doctor and I have decided that breastfeeding is not for me. Formula is perfectly well equipped to meet an infant’s nutritional needs, and I also rather enjoy not having cracked or bleeding nipples.”
The PTA Pain
She’s the chair of every school committee, she’s the third-grade room mother, and she’s first in line to volunteer to sit in the dunk tank at the school carnival. Any school is lucky to have a mom who is so dedicated, but some of these busy-bee mothers have a way of making anyone who gives any less than they do feel like a delinquent parent. The next time you’re badgered into chaperoning a field trip or working a bake sale against your will, have a private conversation with the PTA Pain, reminding her that while other parents are grateful for her dedication, not everyone’s schedule or budget allows for such an outlay of time and money. If the harassment doesn’t stop, don’t regret limiting the activities you participate in or declining future requests for volunteers. After all, your child’s education isn’t tied to the number of hours of unpaid labor you perform.
Unfortunately, there’s no suppressing the human instinct to tell others what to do and how they could do it better. Parenting is no different, and with every mom and dad struggling to get it right, decisions about childcare philosophies are rife with opportunities for disagreement and resentment. Why parenting inspires such heated battles is the subject of endless debate. Some people are likely insecure about their choices and looking for validation; other people are desperate to prove that their way of parenting is the “right way.” And inevitably, just like in every other area of life, some people are just jerks.