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Who Are You Parenting For?

As I stood at the counter cutting up grapes for my toddler’s lunch, it dawned on me that I wasn’t doing so for him. He’s been eating whole grapes* for a while, so why was I going to the trouble?

parenting sometimes involves cutting up vegetables and fruit

It was because I was sending the grapes to PDO, and I didn’t want his teachers to think I was a negligent parent who didn’t care about choking hazards.

*Now, before the grape police come after me, I’d like to defend my actions. Whenever my toddler eats grapes whole, someone is watching him like a hawk—often encouraging him to “Crunch it!”—and he only gets to have one or two at a time. I wouldn’t expect teachers responsible for multiple children to pay such close attention to one grape-eating kid.

Despite the very real possibility that my son might not even eat the grapes in their hacked up form, it was more important for me to look like a “good parent” in front of other adults.

This is not the only instance that I have made a similar choice, prompting me to ask myself, “Who am I parenting for?”

I wish I could always and unequivocally say my children…but sadly that is not always the case.

When I hustle my kids out the door in the morning, am I trying to teach them the value of punctuality and respect for others’ time…or do I not want their tardiness to reflect poorly on my parenting?

When I downplay my canine-cautious daughter’s concerns when encountering a new dog, am I trying to help her conquer her fear…or do I not want to offend the dog owner?

We live near a park and spend a lot of time there, both with friends and on our own. Our children pretty much have free reign when it’s just our crew and have come up with some pretty crazy tricks that include, but are not limited to, climbing on top of the tunnel slide and twisting up in the swings and letting go in a tailspin.

playground equipment

The way my husband and I look at it, if they can do it themselves, then it’s fair game. They need to be able to determine their own comfort level. If they ask for help to climb up the slide, for instance, then they are not ready and have to find something else to do. Hopefully this is teaching them how to manage risk in a safe way.

However, if we are at the park with friends, particularly friends who are not as "free-range" as we are, then suddenly these activities have rules attached: you can only swing so high, you can’t spin someone on the swings, etc.

Are these activities suddenly unsafe? No. Of course not. It’s just that, even though I am a grown woman, I still care too much about what other people think.

I wish that I could have more conviction in the choices I make, particularly when it involves parenting my children. I admire people who stand by their decisions and opinions, unapologetically. But I don’t like confrontation, and often it’s just easier to go along with what all the other “good moms” are doing. Maybe I’m just insecure.

Or maybe, just maybe, I can’t simultaneously be an advocate for all the things all the time. I can’t care the most about choking hazards, playground safety, car seat regulations, bike helmet protocol, organic produce, screen time limits, after-school enrichment, sleeping arrangements…the list goes on and on. Parenting is exhausting.

For parents who are passionate about any one of these things, great. I know that there are things that matter more to me than to others, like what food I serve my children and how much access to screens they have. But we should be caring about these things for the benefit of our children and not because we want others to think we are the “good mom.” It’s not like there’s a prize for parenting.

So what if my kids jump off the top of the swing set but I won’t let them play video games…while yours rear-face in the car until they’re eight but have a tablet glued to their hands? This is what is best for our family, and that might be best for yours. Hmmm. Maybe I have more conviction than I thought.

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