I recently posted a guest blog written by one of my oldest, most modestly dressed friends, Reid. It’s a not-so-subtle take down of other parents. We dreamt up the idea one Sunday afternoon while playing with our 2-year-old sons at the local indoor playground. As we silently judged the menagerie of parenting styles running amok all around us, we independently came to the same conclusion: we are the best parents the universe has ever known, each with an equally perfect son.
I imagine all parents feel this same way. At least I hope they do, otherwise I would very much question their parenting. But the pride and love you feel towards your progeny is, unfortunately, a sociological slippery slope. On this side, it’s all worthy praise and appropriate devotion, an ideal balance of public parental decorum that would raise nary a single questioning eyebrow. Fall over the edge, however, and you risk turning into ‘that parent.’
Don’t pretend you don’t know who I’m talking about. We may each have our own definition of ‘that parent,’ but we all know them when we see them. You’re picturing one right now… try not to let it ruin your day.
At one point or another, we’ve all had to reckon with ‘that parent’ – at the playground, at daycare drop off, in the bleachers watching Saturday morning basketball or at the restaurant where, try as you might to maintain your overly polite Midwestern distance, you can’t help but listen in on the questionable conversations taking place at the tables surrounding you while your perfectly normal family tries to enjoy a perfectly normal meal. (Apologies for the run-on sentence… I am ‘that writer.’)
You might be saying to yourself, “Gosh, Ben, it must be tough being that perfect.” Well, yes, it is. Parenting is already a worst case scenario for an introvert like me – kids have a preternatural ability to turn every experience into a free public exhibition of embarrassment. And being a perfect parent is legitimately tough for someone who’s averse to confrontation… or just simply standing his ground.
And like getting kicked in the shins, there is no middle ground. You’re either strolling through your zip-a-dee-doo-dah day with a bluebird on your shoulder and your perfect son at your side, or you’re on the ground in the fetal position in immeasurable, unstoppable pain wanting to scream out at others to do better.
Daycare is the prime example of this perfection paradox. Handing over your child to an otherwise would-be strangers for eight hours a day is insane. What’s more insane is to have any reasonable expectation that you, the perfect parent, won’t identify every conceivable criticism about the various ways in which your daycare provider doles out said care. Because you’re so completely charmed by the unconditional love of your child, daycare presents an irresistible dare to turn into ‘that parent’ served up on the slipperiest of silver platters.
As a longtime coach, I know exactly how well ‘that parent’ comes across on the other side of the equation, and it’s what keeps me determined to avoid falling into the trap. I have to accept the fact that I alone am perfect and cannot expect the same level of brilliance from others, as hard as they genuinely try. Just bare with me as I, too, genuinely try… not to point out all the things you’re doing wrong. I’m just another perfect parent looking out for his own.