A friend and I were joking recently about the things we used to say, before kids, or when our firsts were just babies. 

No screens until age two!

I’m going to make all homemade baby food!

He’ll never eat fruit snacks.

My kids would never play on an iPad at a restaurant.

And then we laughed and laughed at how naive we were. Because now we know there are no rules. There are no “my kids will never” in parenting, because one day, we all find ourselves desperately searching for any means to get through the day, the next hour even. And maybe it means plopping the one-year-old in front of the TV. Or letting an angry three-year-old have fruit snacks at 9 a.m. so you can just. have. a. damn. minute. Or maybe it means letting the kids play iPad at a restaurant after a long week.

One thing I know for sure, 10 years into this crazy gig called parenthood, is that I don’t know your journey. And you don’t know mine.

Yet, the sanctiparents are still out there, in full force. Ready to jump all over a parent whose child is throwing a tantrum in Target. She needs to discipline that boy, they might say. Ugh, that’s the problem with kids these days. Parents today are just so lazy.

I’m sorry, but do you think you never ever had a meltdown at two years old? Pretty sure toddlers in the 60s or 70s or 80s were still toddlers. And, furthermore, how do you know she isn’t disciplining? Because she doesn’t use your chosen method? Are you able to assess in the 20 seconds you’ve observed her parenting that you could step in and do better? With a child you don’t even know? 

Here’s the thing, world.

Those “lazy” parents sitting at Applebees, letting their eight- and nine-year-olds play on iPads may have just come from the zoo, where they spent an entire day bonding as a family, making memories. And now maybe they are tired, waiting on their food, and having a minute to relax. Or maybe Mom and Dad work opposite shifts, trying to make ends meet, and haven’t seen each other or had a real conversation in two weeks. Maybe letting the kids be a little distracted means they can look at each other for the first time in a long time and say, “Hi. How are you?” 

Those “lazy” parents could be the most hands-on, homeschooling, church-going, love on their kids every second, parents who just happen to say, “Sure, you can have the iPad” for whatever reason they want.

And guess what else? At the next table over, where the kids don’t have a tablet or phone to play with, you don’t know their story either. Those kids may go home to a house where they are completely neglected and ignored.

When do we stop making giant rash judgments about parents—people doing the hardest job on the planet—based on a two minute observation?

When we do start giving them some grace and say, “You do you, Mom and Dad. This life is hard. We are all doing the best we can.”

I think back to my 80s, tech-free childhood fondly. I had wonderful parents who worked hard. When we went out to dinner, sure there were no iPads, but do you know what we did have? Crayons. And paper. And coloring books. I was a bookworm, so chances are I sat and read while waiting for my food. Or wrote a story. Did my parents engage with me? Yes, all the time. But was I also left to entertain myself while they did the 89,000 other things they had to do? Yep. And maybe that meant them having a beer and talking about replacing the furnace or how to deal with Grandma or any other adulting topic while my sister and I made ourselves busy.

I am so flipping sick of the sanctiparent’s go-to phrase: “My kids never . . . ” Well good for you, Susan. I am sure your kids are awesome. You probably worked really hard to be a good mom and do your best with the circumstances you were handed. Here’s a cookie. But guess what? Your statement says, “MY kids” and that’s exactly my point. YOUR kids. YOUR life. YOUR story. 

Does your daughter have special needs? Are you a single mom? Did you lose your husband unexpectedly? Or face a heartbreaking divorce? Are your kids shy? Or are they loud and extroverted? Do you have 10 kids or one? Are they spaced out or did you have them all within a few years? Are you a working mom or stay-at-home mom or work-at-home mom? Do you have extended family nearby who helps? Do you suffer from depression or anxiety? Does your spouse? Do your kids?

Do you see how many variables there are? That list could go on for days. 

When we say “it takes a village” do you know what we mean? It means a village of support. Of kindness. Of grace. Of “you got this” not “you’re doing it wrong because you’re doing it differently than I did.”

Until you are waking up with MY screaming newborn eight times a night and then wiping up MY toddler’s pee in the living room the next day while trying to work from home and get MY oldest child healthy enough to return to school while MY husband is out of town for two weeks…

You can take your judgment of my parenting and stick it. If, however, you want to bring me a bottle of wine and a tray of lasagna, or even just shoot me a smile at Applebees in motherhood solidarity, I’d say thank you. Thank YOU for truly being the village a mother needs. 

Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson is a freelance writer who is known on social media as The 21st Century SAHM. She is an assistant editor at Sammiches and Psych Meds, staff writer and social media manager for Scary Mommy, and is the author of I Brushed My Hair Today, A Mom Journal for Mostly Together Moms. Follow Karen on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/21stcenturysahm/, Twitter https://twitter.com/21stcenturysahm , and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/the21stcenturysahm/