No, Your Kids Won’t Grow Up to Hate You if You Do What You Want Sometimes
Far be it from me to ever pretend that I have all of the answers. Just like anyone else I think, I’m finding that every move, every thought, every planned Pinterest activity comes with a reminder of just how little I know about parenting in general.
That being said, I think I can say with absolute certainty, that some of you aren’t giving your children — or yourself — enough credit.
But let’s back up a second. This article comes on the tail of some fallout I received over a tweet I posted. It went a little something like this:
I tweeted this because, as you’ve probably surmised, I do not like to play pretend with my children. It always devolves into them telling me I’m not doing it right and me thinking about how many games I could be playing on my phone before we amiably part ways until snack time. I don’t find pretend play interesting or easy to follow, and they don’t find me to be a good play buddy.
According to the narrative we’ve swallowed, this means I’m a terrible mother. You know how I know? The internet let me know.
While the majority of the comments I received were thankful for what I’d said, a troubling number pushed back; I was treated to everything from being called a “sh*tty parent” to being told that my children would grow up to hate me because I don’t play tea party with them at their every whim.
“If your child asks you to play with them, they want a connection with you.” They typed, I imagine with their 10-year-old in a Moby wrap on their back. “If you don’t play with them, you’re telling them you don’t care about being close to them.”
“My mother never played with me.” Another said, most likely glaring at a photo of their own parents that they’d been using for dart practice. “I don’t even like her as an adult now.”
I wanted to be angry about these comments, but instead they just made me incredibly sad. These people have soaked up unrealistic expectations to the point of having no room for themselves, and that has to be exhausting.
For one, there are so many ways to show love as a parent that it’s actually overwhelming, and I don’t care how amazing you are; you can’t do them all. You can play pretend, but you can also cook,eat, read, teach, travel (well…pre-COVID anyhow), watch movies, share interests, talk, exercise…the list goes on and on. I’m not the “playing parent” in my family, but I’m the Teaching Parent, the Movie Parent, The Baking Parent, The Joking Parent, and the parent they run to for comfort when they don’t feel well or hurt themselves. They often wrestle or play pretend with their father, and it almost always ends with them accidentally kicking him in his groin. I am okay with this arrangement. If they aren’t, if they truly feel that I don’t love them and they don’t feel close to me, I’m going to need someone to tell them that, because I often can’t sit anywhere without them immediately sitting in my lap and telling me stories I only 1/4 of the way understand.
For another, it’s been said before, but it bears repeating: we still expect parents — mothers, especially — to be everything to their children. We aren’t expected to supply literally all entertainment, support, love, and direction to anyone else, and then upon bringing a child into the world, that changes. Suddenly we imperfect, still-learning, perpetually confused human beings are supposed to have all of the answers for a blank slate with zero survival instinct. Non-huggers are supposed to become huggers. Germaphobes are supposed to love dirt. Introverts are supposed to become extroverts, and vice versa. Who you were before no longer matters, because it’s all about your child now. And so many of us internalize it to the point where we don’t understand how to balance who we are with our roles as parents.
Listen: We’re not in the 1950’s anymore. Soda doesn’t have cocaine in it, it’s no longer suggested that we clean ourselves “down there” with Lysol, and mothers don’t have to stay home and dedicate every ounce of energy they have to keeping their families happy. We’ve since recognized that they can maintain some of their own happiness sometimes. Our dreams and aspirations and preferences do not have to take a backseat. Our personal interests don’t have to be twisted to fit those of our children. You don’t have to love their TV shows or listen to their music or — I don’t know — play with their toys. They will still love you. They will live.
I can feel the air getting colder as many suck in, ready to start yelling about how I’m wrong, and how children need this and they must have that and only good mothers do blah blah blah blah blah.
If you are not one of these people, if you are like me, do you want to know the secret? Here it is: unless they are a trained professional, many of these people don’t know either. They don’t know what all good parents do. They don’t know what all children need. They only know what they wish they’d had as children, and what their own children need. That’s it. And that, plus that nasty narrative I told you about — the one pushing us all to want to satisfy our children’s every single minor need — leads to a fear we actually all have: the fear that we’ll completely screw up the tiny, sentient potato loaf that suddenly looks to us for guidance.
We’re all scared. Some of us just deal with it by projecting their fears onto others.
Your fears are valid, and they actually will make you a wonderful parent, to a degree. But they are also unfounded in many cases. This is one of those cases.
You can be many things to your child, but you don’t have to be all of them. You can stay true to yourself and still raise your child to trust you. You can refuse to do something you don’t want to do and still show love and adoration daily, hourly, if you want to. It’s all in realizing that the one-size-fits-all expectations they hit us over the head with do not, in fact, fit all. Once you remember this, you’re able to utilize your own gifts to show love in your own way.
And they will love you for that. More, even, than that tea party you’ve probably been avoiding all day.