Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Break-Up

I think I’m breaking up with Parents Magazine. This has been a long-time coming and no, US Weekly, you didn’t cause this: the rift in our relationship was already there. I started receiving Parents Magazine right after I became a mother several years ago. It was a gift from my mother who thought I might enjoy the little useful parenting nuggets of what to do about colic, or spit-up or best car seats and all sorts of like-minded stories. At the time, particularly greedy for knowledge and insight about how to navigate the best possible choices for my son, I enjoyed reading it. But now, 4+ years later, something or someone has changed. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s me – maybe it’s both of us.

I feel like the magazine used to be a bit more about ways to better things for you and your child, helpful how-tos and information, sans judgment. Lately though, and I suspect my own parenting insecurities are largely the culprit for reframing the way I’m seeing the same articles, I read it all a bit more in the genre of what I’m doing wrong: what I’m not cooking, what I shouldn’t be saying, teaching, smelling or speaking, etc in front of my children. It’s like the literary equivalent of a mommy prison. I stand there flipping the pages, reviewing list after list of what I shouldn’t and I haven’t. I don’t leave feeling more knowledgeable. To say I’ve been feeling a bit deflated is the PG version of what I usually say after I finish the latest issue.
Here is the thing that gets me: who are the children and parents they are speaking to? In fairness, I’m sure there are some lovely families out there who want more slow cooker recipes to help with dinner but for some reason, nothing personally sets me off more than an article designed to “revamp family dinner” than one that is centered around the slow cooker. It cooks slow. I already am a slow cooker. And my actual slow cooker is still completely wrapped in the basement from my wedding. And no, if I unwrap and cook some mystical concoction for 7 hours, the length of time will not be enough to magically transform my children into someone else’s children eager to try my Asian vegetable shredded beef medley that is “guaranteed to make your kids like veggies!” Sigh.

Or maybe my beloved “spirited” children’s behavior or even my own is in the spotlight. I particularly enjoyed a more recent article entitled “Four Bad Habits Every Parent Needs to Break.” The title they could have used but didn’t might be, “The Four Things I Do Every Day to Ensure My Child Needs a Lifetime of Therapy.” The list, in summarized form, included these four things: you freak out at every near-disaster, you claim everything is great and all “unicorns and rainbows,” you pose requests as questions, and generally over-criticize. As I read this list, I’m not thinking lifetime of social and emotional harm; I guess I’m just thinking that pretty much sums up Tuesday. I’m definitely guilty of most of things on this list except perhaps the last one. I try to not criticize too harshly though admittedly, when Dylan declared it “Destroy Mommy” day yesterday, that didn’t illicit a rainbows and unicorns type of response.
The truth is, it’s not you, Parents Magazine, it’s me. I’ve changed. And your articles aren’t really or usually written in such a typically half-empty fashion. Your suggesting things I could do, I could learn, a set of best practices I could go by. It’s not your fault that buried within your pages I see a woman who by 8AM has already fit in a mommy stroller workout, fired up her slow cooker, packed her children’s lunches (desconstructed chicken tostada, of course?!), and set up the at home date night with her husband for later that evening, after a well-balanced meal.  All of it is so well-balanced that it just unsettles me. Nothing about being a wife or a mother ever feels balanced, not our meals or my emotions or the passage of time or money; none of it. And somehow that works for us.  

So here’s what I think the would-be cover of my imaginary parenting mag would look like:
·         Oreos – not as bad for your kids as you think!

·         TV – not as bad for your kids as you think!

·         Ways to beat the fantasy football blues (see articles above)
Because being stinky and crabby and malnourished and over TV-d and loving and silly and totally out of balance feels good. And that’s how we roll.

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