I’ve got cereal guilt.
Every time I don’t make my kids a hot breakfast, and I feed them some whole-grain cereal with six grams of sugar or less, I feel guilty about it. I have friends who don’t even buy breakfast cereal.
I don’t care if my friends repeatedly point out that they never serve their children processed foods, nary a frozen turkey meatball or mac ’n’ cheese out of a box, all of which I do.
I don’t feel the heat from turkey meatballs. But the breakfast cereal thing I struggle with. I feel like a failure, a loser, when I don’t cook my kids breakfast. Why? I mean, really, it’s not a competition.
Recently an article was published in The Wall Street Journal about why Chinese mothers raise more successful children. It was sent to me more than once. Not sure if my friends were trying to point out my weaknesses, their own weaknesses or everybody else’s? I didn’t ask.
But it did occur to me that on some level we all feel judged as parents.
I remember a frantic phone call from a friend eight years ago. We were both new mothers, struggling to find our stride.
“I need to talk to you.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay, but my friend’s daughter, Megan, has never had a cookie and I offered her a cookie and, I mean, I thought it was okay, it was oatmeal and organic and it had raisins in it, but her mom told me, ‘No, thank you. Megan has never had a cookie!’”
I paused as my internal underachiever persona fed my kid another Munchkin, bought another bag of Cheetos, drank a slug of beer and sat back into second-hand furniture that didn’t match anything else in the house.
“So, you called me.”
“And I am supposed to make you feel better how?”
“Well, you know.”
At this point in the conversation I helped my friend out, let her stop squirming.
“You called me because you know my kids eat donuts.”
“Yes! Please make me feel better because my 2-year old eats organic oatmeal cookies!”
Because the thing is, I don’t think there is anything wrong with eating oatmeal cookies every once in awhile (organic or not), or mac ‘n’ cheese out of box (even if it is a really weird color), or even breakfast cereal some mornings when mom is really tired and just can not be bothered to make French toast.
Besides what difference does it make if Chinese mothers raise academically and violinically successful children, or if there are children who at age 2 have still never had a cookie?
Parenting is a personal journey, and we all have different rules, different comfort levels, different things we feel strongly about. I might make mac ‘n’ cheese out of box, but my kids don’t have video games. Doesn’t make me a better mother, it’s just my thing.
So let’s stop judging each other, judging ourselves, and focus on what’s more important than cereal or meatballs, like how much money we should actually spend on a Sony PlayStation 3 or the Xbox 360 or maybe a Wii.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.