Meredith O'Brien: What do moms want for Mother's Day?

Meredith O'Brien

What do moms want for Mother’s Day?

Advice from parenting “experts” who prompt moms to second-guess themselves and worry that everything they’re doing is wrong? To be judged about everything from what they feed their kids (“You’re giving them Doritos AND food with high fructose corn syrup? Ever heard of childhood obesity?”), to what programs their children watch (“You mean you let your kids watch shows that AREN’T on PBS?!”)? Of course not. What moms of young kids -- myself included -- are seeking is simple: Nonjudgmental support, enough confidence to tune out extraneous advice, a good laugh and a fine adult beverage.

How do I know this? Well, when I spoke with a group of moms recently after giving a speech encouraging them to trust their instincts, the discussion was illuminating. Many women said they don’t receive much moral support amid the cacophony of parenting advice on TV and online, as well as from folks on the playground, in playgroups and at their kids’ schools. Several offered anecdotes about playdates populated by rigid food ideologues, or confided stories to me, like the mom of a 1-year-old, who -- despite the fact that the woman’s an educated, strong professional at work -- said when it comes to childrearing, she’s plagued by uncertainty.

It’s not surprising that they feel this way. I felt similarly when my three kids were toddlers, hampered with indecision as I tried to follow the latest, frequently contradictory parenting recommendations. I reached a point where my parenting confidence eroded, just as with the mom of the 1-year-old. It was only a few years ago when I finally woke up and said, “No mas” to blindly following what the finger-wagging experts say on the Today Show. “Regardless of what the parenting articles, magazines and web sites may say, no one is or can possibly be a perfect parent,” I told the moms. “No one corners the market on parenting wisdom. No one knows your children better than you do. And you can’t go wrong when you parent with a moderate approach to any of the parenting topics of the day.”

And with the continual flood of conflicting childrearing/safety tips, even if you want to adhere to those guidelines, it’s tough to keep current. Remember the message that propelled prudent parents to buy anti-bacterial gel by the case and constantly slather it over our children’s hands because sinister germs lurk EVERYWHERE, like on grocery shopping carts, restaurant tables and your own kitchen counter? Earlier this year that advice was turned on its head when the New York Times ran a story quoting medical experts who said that such hyper-hygienic practices may have actually hindered the development of children’s immune system and possibly may have led to an increase in allergies. The new recommendation? Let kids play in, and even eat, dirt.

A few weeks later, the Times sparked another round of parenting paranoia when it ran an essay which asserted that buying the “wrong” stroller could have a negative impact on a kid’s linguistic development. The column warned that if you put a tot in a forward-facing stroller you’re missing “valuable opportunities for interaction.” Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up.

So, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’ve been giving some thought as to what we can do to address this maternal crisis of confidence. For starters, why not seek opportunities to offer other moms compliments instead of sanctimonious lectures? If we’re about to judge another parent online or in person, or offer unsolicited advice about a mom’s decision to, say, serve Doritos, why not just button our lips? In addition to providing a solid shoulder to cry on, how about striving to give fellow parents a good laugh?

The selection of a Mother’s Day gift that’s lighthearted in nature for a mom or mom-to-be in your life could help the cause too:

  • Whenever I feel as though I’m losing my parental bearings, re-reading The Three-Martini Playdate by Christie Mellor, a collection of tongue-in-cheek essays about how NOT to lose oneself once you become a parent, makes me chuckle.
  • To keep things in perspective for a mom-to-be or mom of a baby, the sharp satire offered by Dale Hrabi’s The Perfect Baby Handbook: A Guide for Excessively Motivated Parents -- which plunges a dagger through the heart of obsessive parenting by mocking the faux-seriousness some people attach to every decision from buying the “right” baby gear to “fool-proof” baby-proofing -- could make the decisions about what to do with the nursery or layette seem less pressing. 
  • Another perspective-providing read: The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Parenting. Despite its title, it’s full of goofy sarcasm particularly when it makes sport of advice books in myriad ways, such as itemizing inappropriate substitute pacifiers for babies when you’re in a pinch (the heel on a stiletto, a screwdriver, a toilet plunger handle, all no-no’s) and advising parents not to push a baby in a stroller during the running of the bulls in Pamplona. (No word on the authors’ position regarding the forward-facing/rear-facing issue.)
  • Celebrating maternal humor with a snarky T-shirt is another option. With quips like, “World’s best mom when my kids are in school,” “Juice box for them, cocktail for me” and, my personal favorite, “Lead actress in a comedy” (a shirt I own), I’ve found that sarcastically wry duds consistently amuse.

However I’m sure that the mom(s) you’re celebrating this month wouldn’t mind if you also threw in some chocolates, mom-alone time and a babysitter who never cancels into the mix. Couldn’t hurt.

Meredith O’Brien, author of “A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum,” blogs about parenthood at the Picket Fence Post (wickedlocalparents.com/picketfencepost) and writes about pop culture at Suburban Mom (suburbanmomnotes.blogspot.com).