Please Don’t Judge Me by What My Child Is Wearing

Military children Keesler Air Force Base
Military children play with hand radios during the 81st LRS Bring Your Child to Work Day event at the ground transportation yard at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, April 26, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kemberly Groue)

My daughter is a spitfire. She’s a master tantrum-thrower, a repeater of curse words and an instigator of sibling rivalry. She’s five-and-a-half years of naughtiness and unbridled energy rolled up into the cutest little blonde diva you’ve ever seen. She’s a giggle monster who once requested to change her name to Cannonball. She’s a handful.

And she’s exactly the child I deserve.

As my parents tell me on a regular basis, little Cannonball is payback for the pain and suffering I inflicted upon them. (I wasn’t exactly the easiest child. Or tween. Or teenager.) And I freely admit that I probably deserve this kind of parental payback.

But I also deserve it after all the judgment I passed on other parents in my pre-Cannonball days. I remember how appalled I was when I walked out my house one day many years ago and watched my neighbor’s youngest daughter running down their driveway in nothing but a diaper and her older daughter climbing out the bathroom window on the opposite side of the house. What abysmal parenting! How could a mother possibly allow these horrible things to happen?!

Well, after living through some of the shenanigans Cannonball has pulled over the years, I’m now well aware how things like that can happen. I have also come to the realization that I’m now on the receiving end of those same judgments I once passed on other parents.

I can only imagine what the other mothers at the YMCA were thinking when they watched Cannonball almost drown during her group swim lesson because, when the instructor was with another child, she did the exact opposite of what she was told to do.

I can only imagine what her teachers think of her clothing choices, the rotation of the same 3 outfits, one of which includes a Halloween shirt layered under the orange undershirt she tie-dyed at school for a field trip. She has a closet filled with adorable, never worn clothes, yet every day I’m still tempted to pen a note to her teachers begging them not to judge me on the basis of my child’s attire.

I can only imagine what the other parents at my son’s baseball practice were thinking when I ignored Cannonball’s complaints about being cold and brushed off her requests to wear my jacket. I attempted to explain that she had defiantly refused to put a jacket on before we left the house. I attempted to explain the concept of natural consequences as a way to teach her a lesson. I attempted to explain that, because of my amazing parenting skills, she would never refuse to wear a jacket ever again. But I could still feel the stares of the other parents as they offered my shivering child a blanket.

If I’ve learned anything as a parent, especially as a MilSpouse who often parents alone, it’s that I have to choose my battles. If Cannonball wants to wear two different shoes to school, fine. I can live with that. Not a battle I need to fight. But leaving the house without eating breakfast? Nope, that’s non-negotiable. That’s a battle worth my time and energy.

Just as I have to choose my battles with my children, I have to make similar evaluations with other parents as well. Parenting styles vary, and I can’t please everyone. Should I have wasted my breath trying to explain why I wasn’t making any effort to warm my daughter up at baseball practice? Probably not. No matter what I said, the parents who were going to inwardly criticize my choices would do so regardless of my explanation.

As military spouses and sometimes single parents, a lot of the time we have to resort to the “I gotta do what I gotta do” philosophy. And sometimes, when my husband is gone and my children are screaming at each other and my dinner is burning and I’m exhausted, what I gotta do is turn on the television and let SpongeBob take over parenting duties for the next 30 minutes. My old pre-Cannonball self, who swore she would never ever in a million years use TV as a baby-sitter, would throw judgment on that decision, but I have to choose my battles with her too.

Have you ever judged other parents because of their children’s behavior? Do you feel like other people judge your parenting skills or decisions?

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