Dear Crappy Parent

We all have our highs and our lows. The rest of the time we're somewhere in the middle, treading water and doing the best we can.
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Boy On Tire Swing In Playground
Boy On Tire Swing In Playground

I see you.

I see you sitting on a park bench with your iPhone out. Your kid is calling for your attention and it takes three or four times before you recognize that the "Dad" being shouted from the playground is the "Dad" that means you. You look up for a minute from whatever is happening on your screen, wave, and then go back the digital oracle in your lap.

I see you at the supermarket queued up with your kids. The older one wants what appears to be a plastic baby bottle filled with liquid sugar. When you say "no," she starts to cry. You grab her by the arm, pull her ear in close to your mouth, and even though I don't know what you whisper, I know it is bad because of the look on your kid's face when she puts the candy back.

I see you at the restaurant. Your youngest has chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese for what I can only imagine is the 40th time recently. His cheesy fingers are holding your iPhone, and he's watching what is probably some brainless cartoon you use to babysit your kids because you are too lazy to pay attention to them.

I see you lose it at the mall. Your kid drops a soda on the floor, and your anger is far more than the situation deserves. People stop and stare at you. Your words are loud and hurtful, and I wonder to myself how much you are damaging your kid.

Here's what I don't see.

I don't see that...

You play with your kid all the time. You spend the evenings after you get home from work reading books and teaching your kid how to read. You take her to the comic book store every Tuesday and let her pick two issues to reward her for her hard work. On weekends you take your kids to a park full of other kids. You want them to be able to play and have fun while you catch up on e-mails on your phone.

I don't see that...

After picking your kids up from daycare, you need to swing into the supermarket to grab some chicken and milk before you go home and cook dinner. Last night your kid had a snack when she got home and didn't eat anything you cooked. Because you two have talked about it, she knows that she doesn't get a snack, but she asks for the candy anyway. When you pull her in close, you remind her of the reason she doesn't get a snack, and ask her to put it back. She remembers, looks a little sad, and does.

I don't see that...

You don't get to go out to eat very often. Money is tight, and taking four people out to a restaurant is expensive. But it is a treat, and you want everyone to have fun. For you, a treat is a medium-rare steak and potatoes. A treat for the kids means chicken nuggets and mac 'n' cheese. It is a special occasion... which is why, after your toddler tries to wander into the kitchen for the third time, you decide that the judgmental stares of others are worth it for the chance to have a conversation with your spouse for the first time in a week.

And the yelling incident?

I don't see that you've had trouble sleeping all week. I don't see that you had an argument with your spouse that day and it is still eating away at you. I don't see that you are stressed at work, and that usually little things don't make you mad like this. I don't see the hundreds of times you didn't yell at your kid. I don't see you say you're sorry later and explain that sometimes even grown-ups get angry and yell, and that doesn't necessarily make it right, but people make mistakes. I don't see your child forgive you.

See, that's the thing. I don't see anything but that one single snapshot of your life -- an iPhone, some chicken nuggets, a spilled soda or an angry face. That's all I see, and for some reason I think I know you. For some reason I think I know what kind of parent you are. You are a "crappy" parent.

And you know what? Depending on which snapshot you see of my life, so am I. I am a crappy parent sometimes, too. And I am an awesome parent sometimes, and so are you!

So let's make a deal.

Let's cut each other some slack. Let's rest easy in the knowledge that there is much we don't know about each other. Instead of offering eye-rolls or frustrated gasps, let's toss each other a smile and a nod that say, "I've been there, too." When we're really struggling, let's offer to listen and hold our advice back until we're asked. And most of all, let's acknowledge that we're all crappy parents sometimes. We all have our highs and our lows. The rest of the time we're somewhere in the middle, treading water and doing the best we can.

Knowing that we're all in this together makes this Sisterhood of Motherhood, Brotherhood of Fatherhood, Fellowship of Parenthood... whatever you want to call it, great. Knowing we're not alone makes the lows tolerable, the highs feel better, and the middle a lovely place to be. So please, crappy/awesome/everything-in-between parents, let's just calm down a little bit, judge less, and enjoy the ride.

Meet me in the middle,


P.S. All those examples were me. I felt bad being judgy about others, so I just used myself as a stand-in. So yeah... OOOOHHH BAM!!! TOTALLY UNEXPECTED M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN PLOT TWIST! BRUCE WILLIS WAS DEAD THE WHOLE POST!!!

Anyway, the message is the same. Be cool to each other. We're in this together :)

An earlier version of this piece appeared on John Kinnear's personal blog, Ask Your Dad, as part of Similac's Sisterhood of Motherhood Program. You can also find him trying to be funny on Facebook.

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