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Why I Stopped Measuring My Parenting Skills by the Standards of Others

By now I’m sure many of you have heard about the terrible accident involving the toddler who fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo — resulting in a choice being made by zookeepers to shoot and kill the gorilla in an attempt to protect the toddler who was deemed to be in danger. Since the incident went viral, opinions on the parenting skills of the toddler’s mother has come into question. As a mother of 6 I know all too well how fast toddlers can slip out of their parent’s grasp. Most parents want to protect their child by any means possible — they want to prevent every possible accident and injury that could ever potentially affect their child, but the truth is, parents are humans and humans are not perfect-we make mistakes — and sometimes plain old accidents happen.

As I read all the harsh commentary directed toward this mother — who by the way witnessed her child manhandled by a frustrated animal while she watched helplessly — it’s caused me to reflect on my own decisions as a parent over the years — specifically my decision to stop measuring my parenting ability by the standards of others. My decision to ignore the critics didn’t happen overnight, however. In the beginning, I would often take the comments of others to heart when it came to making decisions that involved my children. Eventually, I was able to understand that parenting is a lesson in and of itself and only through experience do we become better. Leaning to make the decisions I feel are best for my children in conjunction with their father, without the criticisms of outsiders have been crucial in my growth. Here are a few steps I’ve taken in order to be “unbothered” by the critics:

WHAT WORKS FOR ONE FAMILY MAY NOT WORK FOR MINE

My children are being raised in a household with both of their parents present. This was not the case for myself, however. My parents split when I was about 8, and though I saw my father on the weekends and during summer vacations (for a while at least), my mother made pretty much all the decisions when it came to my care on her own. Nowadays, being that she is the grandmother, she often gives advice — even when I don’t ask for it. Though I know my mother’s heart is in the right place — there are times where we’ve gotten into arguments about decisions made in regards to my children that she disagreed with. Like many parents — my mother believes she is right about everything, but the truth is, my mother’s perspectives are based on her own experiences as a parent — experiences that are not necessarily the same as mine.

Some of our biggest battles stem from the fact that I make decisions in conjunction with my other half. I’m not sure she’s always grasped the idea of consulting with someone else when it comes to parenting — because she was the head of our household growing up. So, though I may agree with some of her perspectives at times — when I’d say “thanks for your advice, I’m going to talk to their father about it” — she’d become upset. I had to eventually have a conversation with her explaining that my children’s father and I make decisions together. Though I appreciate her advice, we may at times choose to go another route — and I wanted her to respect that. What worked for our family when I was growing up may not work for mine now — eventually she was able to understand.

I DO NOT HAVE TO DEFEND MY CHOICES

My children’s father and I are not married, and I’ve been told on countless occasions by strangers and family that we’re setting a bad example for our children by living together as an unwed couple. Initially, I was hurt by the fact that our parenting skills were being judged by a lack of a “marriage certificate”. No consideration was given to the fact that though not “legally married” my significant other and I are in a long term committed relationship and feel as though what we have works for us — our children are being raised in a nurturing and loving environment — and none of this changes on account of having a marriage certificate or not having one. But there will always be the critics and religious zealous spouting out rhetoric that neither I nor my children’s father agree with — so why should we let it guide our family? It’s at the point now that I’m done arguing and defending our choice to live according to our own terms — I will no longer defend my decisions — instead I politely agree to disagree and keep it moving. Ultimately, someone else’s problem with the way our family live our lives is just that — someone else’s problem.

I’M ALLOWED TO MAKE MISTAKES

Most parents strive to be the best parent they can — but in all that striving to do everything right I’ve come to the realization that I’m allowed to make mistakes — in other words — be human. There have been times where I’ve turned my back for a second and my 2-year-old has climbed on to something and then fell, (yes, it happens that quick) after I’ve pulled him down from said table or chair a million times prior. There have been times where I’ve said the wrong thing, made the wrong choice, and exercised poor judgement when it’s come to my children — I highly doubt there’s a parent alive who hasn’t. I’ve come to believe that in a world where everything is accessible to everyone else on the planet via the medium of social media, we as a society have opened ourselves unnecessarily to the criticism of others, whose opinions truly don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. So, to all the parents who have found their selves under the scrutiny of others due to decisions you have made that they disagree with — don’t let it get to you- because most of the time, those that mind don’t matter and those don’t matter don’t mind!

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