If You Can’t Please Everyone

The more I read and talk and think about parenting, the worse I feel. Even articles designed to make me feel better just . . . don’t make me feel better. In theory, the internet should make parenting easier. My trusty laptop has answers to any parenting question I might have, from “what is that rash?” to “when should my kid start dating?” There’s a parenting style (an corresponding internet faction) to match any personality or belief system. Instead of plodding along in my own parents’ footsteps, I can blaze my own trail and find my own answers.

Of course, quantity doesn’t guarantee quality, and by the time I wade through all the possible answers to “what is that rash?” it’ll either go away on its own or eat my child whole. According to the internet, rashes are usually a sign of rare and incurable disease. I should definitely see a doctor, or possibly a shaman. No matter what my question, there’s someone on the internet ready to swoop in and inform me I’m failing as a parent. And really, there’s no excuse for failure. Not when the perfect answers were just a click away.

I thought writing about parenting myself, getting my own voice out there, would make me feel better. I thought it would make me more considered, more surefooted. I thought that sorting and expressing my thoughts might make me less overwhelmed, but no. Not even a little bit.

Writing about parenting has made one thing perfectly clear–I’m a pretty mediocre parent. I’m painfully ordinary, with unremarkable opinions and hackneyed advice. I’m fat and my feet hurt and I’m not getting any younger. My basement’s a mess and I never quite finished raking the leaves from last fall. My kids are not gifted. They’d rather jump on my furniture than read, and I let them watch too much TV and eat too much candy because it helps me get dinner on the table and maybe even a moment to myself once in a while. Sometimes I yell at my kids. Sometimes they yell at me. Sometimes my valiant attempts to calmly reason with them sound a whole lot like lectures. Maybe someday my kids will be rich and/or famous, but they’re gonna be flipping burgers and following orders along the way, and I haven’t the faintest idea how to prepare them to follow orders as a line chef and give orders as a CEO.

If parenting really is a contest I’m not winning any medals.

And here’s the kicker: I’m okay with all that. At least, I was before the internet got in my head. Maybe we aren’t the best family out there but we’re getting by. We even like each other most of the time. Before I started comparing myself to the internet, that was enough. Before I made it my business to have parenting opinions, I was happy. All this access to advice and opinions is stressing me out, which is probably not helping my parenting.

Huh. Maybe I should get off the internet. But then where would I go for porn and cat pics?

Featured image by Junior Libby at

Jo S

Jo S. is more scared of you than you are of her. She's a stay-at-home mom in the heart of Utah, where three kids is considered a small family. She cooks, crochets, blogs, and runs a small but dedicated skeptical book club.

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  1. I must admit that I am the kind of person who could really go nuts with trying to be perfect or the best or what have you, with probably anything. I don’t consider that a good or helpful quality, so in that sense, I’m probably really lucky I haven’t had any kids yet, because the particular life experiences I’ve had in the last couple of years have pretty fundamentally changed my worldview on almost everything, including parenting.

    I think the most illustrative was a Mother’s Day gift a friend of mine got that said “World’s Okayest Mom”. It was such a silly little thing, but it felt so right as to be a profound insight. It’s one of the few things I’ve accepted into my personal canon of life philosophies, being the okayest is, and I hope I remember to apply it to parenting as I now do to other things (career, health, relationships, whatever needs it).

    1. “World’s Okayest Mom.” I love that. I’ve worked hard to “run my own race” and not get caught up in competition or perfectionism, but it does seem like kids make that harder. All that love and hope you have for them makes it hard sometimes to just stay calm and let them grow.

  2. This is soooo hard. I hate reality shows that are all about cutting out everyone, because there’s already so much emphasis in our culture on choosing the absolute bestest of the best for everything, no matter how trivial it should be. Your kid dances? Well, was she Clara in the Nutcracker? She does gymnastics? Did she go to States? Did she place there? Did she? Is she going to a top ranked school? And there are real consequences, more and more as this becomes the rule. Didn’t go to that school, less chance of this job. It’s not just about letting kids be kids. It’s, as a culture, accepting that all kids are “deserving” even if they aren’t classed as super-anything. (No, I’m not saying no standards at all. I’m saying less emphasis on only the top layer, and more opportunity to make mistakes and develop.) And, as a culture, it would be great if we felt that kids stay deserving of respect and opportunities even when they become us and are adults and parents. (Sorry about the rant. Clearly you touched a nerve. Ahem, nice post.)

    1. It’s easy to overlook the vast and important range between being the best and having no standards. The focus on being and having “the best” distracts us from the real value (and pleasure) in learning new things, mastering new skills, sharing interests. It creates the constant feeling of falling behind.

  3. There’s a simple truth most people like to ignore: 99.9% of all people are pretty ordinary when looked at from a general standpoint.
    But we live in an age where everybody has to be a super-anything. Hey, there’s a bazillion casting shows on TV that tell us it’s possible!
    And since everybody is looking at those 0.1% of super-people whe lose the perspective that everybody is a freakin’ super-individual. I am pretty sure that there’s a super-Jo. Maybe it’s not the are of raking leaves, but maybe the area of snuggling before bedtime!
    Nobody can delight me and drive me as crazy as my own kids, sometimes at the same time. Well, maybe my husband, too. I know they are not super-special-perfect-people. But I know they’re wonderful! And I’m pretty sure they’re thinking the same about me.
    The author Robert Musil once wrote: “a good friend is somebody you actually can’t stand”
    Because you know all their faults, Every single one and you’re also the person who gets to deal with them. And I think that’s true for parents and partners and kids as well.
    Sometimes people look at me shocked when I tell them that the oldest does ballett, but that she also has zilch talent and really sucks at it (not when the kid is present, of course).
    How can I say that about my own child? Because it’s true! I have eyes, you kow?
    How can I still pay for ballett classes if the kid sucks at it? Because she likes it! I didn’t sign her up for ballett because one day I want to see her dance Copelia. I signed her up because I thought some sport would do her good and she chose ballett. My expectations have been fulfilled 100%: It does her good. She likes it. Her teacher is wonderful and takes good care of the kids. What more do I want?

    1. I think that increasingly, competitive culture is teaching kids that nothing is worth doing unless you can be the best at it or be famous for it. It makes me happy to hear about people dancing just because they like it. 🙂

    2. Haha, I say the same thing about my son and soccer! He’s *terrible* at it. I mean really, just embarrassingly bad. He doesn’t have the coordination or the focus to play that kind of fast-paced team sport. He spent most of the first quarter of today’s game picking his nose. But he LOVES it. The league he plays in has the motto “everybody plays” and even though obviously there are games with points and wins/losses, nobody is adding up the scores at the end of the season. I figure eventually he will either get better at it or get bored with it.

      (And seeing him enjoy a competition where he’s losing almost all of the time? Priceless considering this is a kid who will pitch the biggest fucking tantrum you have ever seen if he comes close to losing any board game. So the fact that he can be the only kid on his team to not score a goal the entire season and be TOTALLY OKAY WITH THAT is a huge plus.)

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