"You're the best mommy who has ever lived!"
That's what my daughter told me the other day. I beamed and tried to tell myself that it had nothing to do with the ice cream I'd just bought for her. I tried to tell myself that she really did believe that no one could possibly be better at this parenting thing than me.
And then I remembered that she didn't have any other parents to compare me to.
I wondered if I was spoiling her by giving her the ice cream. What if her teeth rotted out from the sugar? What if she begins to expect treats for no reason at all? What if she rejects healthy food and will eat only junk?
I'm often filled with doubt. There's a constant tape playing in my head that says things like "Am I doing this right? Will I screw up my kids?" and "Should I have done that differently?"
My only consolation is that I think that's true for most parents. Actually, I think it's true of all parents, but I'll say "most" because if I say "all," someone will comment to say that they're 100 percent confident, 100 percent of the time. Because that guy is always out there. That guy is everywhere on the internet.
I think humans parent like the cologne "Sex Panther." If you've seen the movie "Anchorman," you already know what I'm about to say. If you haven't, Sex Panther's claim is that "60 percent of the time, it works every time."
That's how I feel about my parenting. Sixty percent of the time, I'm amazing, every time. But the other 40, not so much. And within that 40, there's probably five to 10 percent that I hope the neighbors didn't hear.
For every moment like the ice cream love-fest with my daughter, there are others when one of my kids uses a bad word flawlessly, at an absolutely fitting time, and I know it's because he or she heard it from me.
For parents, raising our children is our most challenging and most important job -- one that we rarely feel qualified to do. The stakes are so high, and failing is so unthinkable.
I'm also filled with doubt as the writer of this column. There's a pretty decent chance that some of you might actually follow some of my recommendations. I would never, ever, ever (really -- NEVER) suggest you do something that I knew was wrong or ineffective, but what if I got it wrong and then I innocently wrote about it, and you followed my suggestion and you got it wrong, too?
What if I was the Snackwells of parenting columns?
For a few years in the '90s, they were everywhere. Cookies, crackers, all kinds of snacks (see how that works?) billed as being healthy because they were fat free.
Fat, back in the '90s, was evil. In those years of "waifs" and "heroin chic," we avoided fat like Seattle rockers avoided shampoo. Snackwells were the food we could eat endless amounts of and still feel virtuous. I remember once (OK, much more than once) packing a whole box of Snackwell's Devil's Food Cake cookies as my lunch. Not "in" my lunch -- "as" my lunch. I ate the entire box and felt as good about it as if I'd eaten a salad.
And then we all got fat.
We got "the obesity epidemic." People could no longer fit into chairs with arms. Hospitals had to buy bigger beds. Eventually, we realized that the fat-free craze was to blame. In our quest to eliminate fat, we had added tons of calories. It all seems so simple and obvious now.
These are the things I worry about. What if, even though I meant well, I told you guys to do something that I'm doing and then not only did I screw up my kids, but I screwed up yours, too?
By the way, I think "Neurotic Parenting Columnist" would make a great Woody Allen character.
Here's the thing: I don't have it all figured out. I'm a traveler on this journey just like you. I've been parenting for only a decade. I don't have the perspective that comes with completion. My kids are young. I'm still learning.
But it has to be that way, I think. Parenting moves at the speed of light. By the time someone is finished with the job, the knowledge they gained in the early years is largely obsolete. Sure, some things never change -- but a lot of things do.
Consider "screen time." Twenty years ago, that phrase meant television. Fifteen years ago, it meant television, video games and computers. Ten years ago, the definition was expanded to include handheld gaming devices. Five years ago, tablet computers and cell phones were added. Screen time advice from just a decade ago wouldn't apply now.
So greetings from the journey. I'm glad we're doing this together.
But I'm warning you, I screw up all the time, at least five to 10 percent of every day. I think that means I'm maybe an average parent, but one who is always aiming to be better. I don't expect you, the people reading my words, to think I've got it all figured out.
But my daughter?
She says I'm the best mommy who has ever lived.