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Meet Mr. Mom: Doubt and Parenting

Just because your kid has tantrums doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.

You know you’re a bad parent when …

You sit down with your toddler at a Chinese restaurant and he dumps a dish of mustard sauce on the table. And the sweet and sour sauce. And a glass of water. And—unbelievably—another glass of water.

You know you're a bad parent when ...

Your 2-year-old eats dinner at home standing on his seat. When a substantial part of the meal is a mound of ketchup. When his first stop after supper isn't a sink to wash his filthy hands but the baby grand piano.

You know you're a bad parent when ...

Your kid is the only one screaming bloody murder in the grocery store. Or a gift shop. Or a restaurant.

I wish I could say that these examples were all hypothetical situations. The truth is that my loving, charming, fantastic little boy doesn't always act that way, and I often ask myself why. I think I’m a decent parent overall, but at times like these I wonder.

I do my best to not be a pushover, to be consistent and set boundaries. Stop by my house sometime and the most commonly used word you’ll hear is “no.” I also know that it's my son’s job to push back and have tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. That’s a developmental fact.

But should they be occurring this often? So loudly? So—to my great embarrassment—publicly? It’s enough to make one doubt one’s ability to be a good parent.

William and Martha Sears offer some consolation in their tome The Baby Book. “Don’t take it personally,” they write. “If baby’s rage easily gets under your skin, remember you are responsible neither for baby’s tantrum nor for stopping it. The ‘goodness’ of the baby is not a reflection of your goodness as a parent. Tantrums are as common as frequent falls as a baby climbs the shaky ladder toward independence.”

Still, it’s sometimes hard to believe that when no one else’s child is tossing broccoli around the room. And it’s hard to know if the way you’re handling these situations is making things better or worse.

Maybe I should be doing things differently to avoid the meltdowns altogether. Afterward, I’ve put my toddler in time out, but it doesn’t seem to calm him.

I try hard to be good, to be patient with the boy. I try and explain my thinking to him, and I respond to his anger with tranquillity—for a little while, at least. There are times, though, when I’m over-matched, too exhausted by his tirades to stop him from eating his snack off the floor. (Don’t tell my wife.)

At least I know I’m not alone. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon wrote in Manhood for Amateurs, “A father is a man who fails every day,” he says. “Sometimes things work out: Your flashed message is received and read, your song is rerecorded by another band and goes straight to No. 1 … your act of last-ditch desperation sends your comic-book company to the top of the industry. Success, however, does nothing to diminish the knowledge that failure stalks everything you do.”

That’s OK, because you know when you’re truly a bad parent? When you stop worrying about such things.

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