Being a Mom Means Always Having To Say You're Sorry

There are lots of things parenting books don't tell you: how once you become a mom, you can recognize your child's cry at .84 miles away and it will feel, always, like a dagger in your chest. How you will sway back and forth for months, then miss it when you stop. And ... how once you bring a baby into this world, you will owe apologies to a lot of other moms.

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Before having kids, I was pretty confident (read: smug) that I had the skills to be a good parent. I mean after all, I'd started babysitting at 12. During high school, I helped out with vacation bible school at my church, and had taught swimming lessons to a preschooler who insisted on picking his nose and wiping whatever he dug out onto my shoulder. I'd even been a lifeguard.

(True, I'd never actually saved someone, but I did blow my whistle a lot.)

When I saw moms raising their voices at their kids or obsessing because their baby "wouldn't go down at night" (whatever that meant!) I did an inner tsk-tsk. Obviously, these parents didn't have the babysitting/swim lessons/lifeguarding experience of moi.

And then, in a nifty narrative arc that you already saw coming but I, of course, didn't, I actually had a kid. And had to not only eat my words, but completely choke down my pride.

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Parenting is exhausting and exhilarating in a way that is near-impossible to describe, or even understand, until you've been through it yourself. (Kind of like childbirth.) It's also a humbling experience (understatement) that constantly tweaks what we think we know, especially when it comes to how other moms act.

Everything I got judgy about pre-kids, I ended up doing myself. That list includes, but is not exclusive to, letting my then-toddler son rifle through my wallet in a restaurant so I could finish a conversation with a friend. Allowing for embarrassing amounts of extra screen time because I have to work. Publicly giving "The Look" and hissing through clenched teeth, "Doyouunderstandme?"

Did I mention my husband and I ended up hiring a sleep expert to help us get our firstborn to "go down" at night? (Ah, so that's what it means!) Call it karma if you want. I just call it parenting.

Two kids later, I'm a lot less quick to judge other moms. While I'm certainly an expert about my own offspring, the truth is, I don't know the first thing about anyone else's. So long as we all parent with love and patience and empathy, does the small stuff -- ie, what kind and how much candy we allow our kids to gobble down on crosss-country flights -- really matter?

The other day, I happened to overhear two pregnant women gossiping at the park, criticizing another mom for letting her little daughter wear rain boots (on the wrong feet) on the jungle gym. It wasn't a good idea, they frowned. Too dangerous. What on earth was the mom thinking?

I didn't chime in. Been there, done that. And eventually, they will, too.

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