It’s so tempting to get riled up by the mommy wars, isn’t it? The Time magazine cover story about extreme parenting, “Are You Mom Enough?,” featuring a beautiful mother in skinny jeans nursing her preschool-aged son, is infamous by now. It made me, along with the rest of the Internet, explode with righteous indignation. Mom enough? How dare they! This isn’t a contest! But, wait . . . what if it is? And I don’t even own skinny jeans!
The story also made me think about what I wanted to teach my son Andrew — I mean really teach him. I’m not talking about the trendy must-dos that crop up each year about feeding and sleeping and discipline, insecurity porn concocted just in time to fill a fresh generation of parents with self-doubt. No, I’m talking about the things that I want to impart in average, totally “inextreme” moments, when my breasts are covered and my skinny jeans are in the wash.
Here’s my wish list.
■ I hope I raise a child who says “thank you” to the bus driver when he gets off the bus, “please” to the waiter taking his order at the restaurant, and holds the elevator doors when someone’s rushing to get in.
■ I hope I raise a child who loses graciously and wins without bragging. I hope he learns that disappointments are fleeting and so are triumphs, and if he comes home at night to people who love him, neither one matter. Nobody is keeping score, except sometimes on Facebook.
■ I hope I raise a child who is kind to old people.
■ I hope I raise a child who realizes that life is unfair: Some people are born rich or gorgeous. Some people really are handed things that they don’t deserve. Some people luck into jobs or wealth that they don’t earn. Tough.
■ I hope I raise a child who gets what he wants just often enough to keep him optimistic but not enough to make him spoiled.
■ I hope I raise a child who knows that he’s loved and special but that he’s not the center of the universe and never, ever will be.
■ I hope I raise a child who will stick up for a kid who’s being bullied on the playground. I also hope I raise a child who, if he’s the one being bullied, fights back. Hard. Oh, and if he’s the bully? I hope he realizes that his mother, who once wore brown plastic glasses and read the phonebook on the school bus, will cause him more pain than a bully ever could.
■ I hope I raise a child who relishes life’s tiny pleasures — whether it’s a piece of music, or the color of a gorgeous flower, or Chinese takeout on a rainy Sunday night.
■ I hope I raise a child who is open-minded and curious about the world without being reckless.
■ I hope I raise a child who doesn’t need to affirm his self-worth through bigotry, snobbery, materialism, or violence.
■ I hope I raise a child who likes to read.
■ I hope I raise a child who is courageous when sick and grateful when healthy.
■ I hope I raise a child who begins and ends all relationships straightforwardly and honorably.
■ I hope I raise a child who can spot superficiality and artifice from a mile away and spends his time with people and things that feel authentic to him.
■ I hope I raise a child who makes quality friends and keeps them.
■ I hope I raise a child who realizes that his parents are flawed but loves them anyway.
■ And I hope that if my child turns out to be a colossal screw-up, I take it in stride. I hope I remember that he’s his own person, and there’s only so much I can do. He is not an appendage to be dangled from my breasts on the cover of a magazine, his success is not my ego’s accessory, and I am not Super Mom.
I hope for all of these things, but I know this: None of these wishes has a thing to do with how I feed him or sleep-train him or god-knows-what-else him. Which is how I know that these fabricated “wars” are phony every step of the way. I do not need the expensive stroller. I do not need to go into mourning if my “sleep-training method” is actually a “prayer ritual” that involves tiptoeing around the house in the dark. This is not a test. It’s a game called Extreme Parenting, and you can’t lose if you don’t play. And, really, why would you play? You have children to raise.