Sitting at the park I notice a woman and her daughter walk into the play area. A friendly little girl walked up to them and pointed to the daughter saying, “She’s pretty.” The mom looked down and replied, “Thank you, but it’s a little boy.” I looked over to get a better look at her little boy as I too originally thought it was a girl. The child was wearing small palazzo pants paired with a scoop necked top with pink edging. The child also had his hair in what looked like small French braids. My first thought, “Why the heck would you dress your child like a girl?”  I’ve tried like crazy to put my own daughter in as much pink and frills as I could over the past couple of years, as her hair has not grown particularly fast. At two and a half she still sports a pixie cut and even with a huge pink headband people still lovingly compliment on what an adorable little boy I have.

The following day at the park I stood by as my daughter slid through the tube slide again and again. After a little while I noticed a group of boys around five years old enter the park and begin running around and chasing each other. It wasn’t long before I watched one of the boys climb into the tube slide and begin shoving my scared, crying daughter out. I was furious. My husband and I sternly told the child that he needed to be careful with children smaller than himself. I looked around and saw no monitoring parent in sight. A few minutes later I said, “Where the hell is this child’s mother?” and my husband looked past me and said, “I think that’s her over there; the one with the paramedics.” I turned to see a group of paramedics sitting with the woman who must have had either some sort of heat stroke or dizzy spell and immediately felt ashamed. “OK. I guess I can definitely forgive that,” I said.

That moment got me thinking. It’s so easy to make snap judgments about other people’s parenting, but is it really fair? Is it right? I thought back to the child I’d seen the day prior and thought about how I’d judged his mother for the way she’d dressed him. I didn’t know her story. Who was I to say that his outfit should only be for a girl? It’s a matter of opinion. Lots of men wear pink these days. Maybe she hadn’t dressed him but encouraged him to learn to choose his clothing on his own. Maybe she was using hand-me-downs because she knew he’d get dirty at the park and didn’t want to ruin newer clothing. Perhaps she’d tied his hair in braids just to keep it out of his face because she didn’t want to cut his beautiful curly hair. I began thinking, “Is this the sort of mother I want to be? A mother who judges based on first impression alone?”

Often, parents are expected to be superheroes. They aren’t supposed to make mistakes. They are supposed to be perfect, solid role models, and predictors of the future. No one cares if they have personal problems, suffer through illness, experience loss, or have bad days. There is no room for error. They are criticized when a child is wanders, if a child is on a leash, if a child gets hurt, or swallows something they shouldn’t have. No matter how careful one is, accident’s inevitably happen. We are all just lucky when it doesn’t happen to us.

I was the subject of criticism only last summer when I attended a birthday party. None of the adults were playing with the children who were standing around awkwardly. Unable to stand the boredom I started to play a game of chase with the children. They were laughing, giggling and chasing me back before I turned on them, pretending to catch them. That is, until I heard some of the relatives of the birthday girl comment, “That’s such a stupid game.” I paused thinking I must have heard wrong. Another person said, “What game?” and the original commentator replied, “Chase the parent. It teaches them such bad behaviors.”  I must admit it was hurtful. I’d only been trying to liven up the party as none of the kids were playing. I wanted to shout back that at least I wasn’t sitting on my ass having a cocktail, but instead I collected my child and announced it was nap time. I felt extremely insulted that they’d been so quick to judge, and not so keen on understanding that I was just trying to make the kids happy.

Admittedly it’s difficult not being critical. It’s so easy to become sucked in to the gossip, as uneducated as it may be. One may critique reasons why some chooses formula over breast milk, home school over public, day care instead of staying at home, but these things aren’t what define good parenting. It may feel good to assume perfection, and yes, there are people out there who are lazy, neglectful, unfit, and it’s important to be aware of them. However, it’s doubtful one can come to this conclusion at first impression. One never knows what is going on in the individual lives and minds of parents. Every family, every situation is different. Parents aren’t superheroes, despite how they may appear to their children; no matter how much they may aspire to be super human. Everything isn’t held together in pristine order all of the time; in spite of unyielding attempts to do so. Parents are just people; people with a lot more responsibilities and expectations than the norm.

Marisa Svalstedt

Marisa Svalstedt is a stay-at-home mom living in her hometown of Bethel, Connecticut, with her husband, and their daughter. She received her MA in English from Western Connecticut State. In addition to writing Marisa enjoys photography, modeling, and crochet.