And the Playground Stank of Stink Eye

PHOTO: A mother watches her children on a playground in this undated stock photo.

(Editor's note: This article first appeared on Babble.com. It has been reprinted here with permission. Disney is the parent company of both Babble and ABC News.)

Did you know it’s no longer good enough to take your kids to a park to play? It’s not even good enough to pay a million dollars to take your kids to an amusement park. Once there, you have to play with them all the time every second like it’s the last time you’ll ever play together. Headed for a day at the beach? You can’t just sit in your chair like a lifeguard, eyeballing kids wandering too far out in the ocean, or roaming too far down the beach to the point that it’s impossible to look away for 20 seconds, that’s not good enough! You’ve got to be out there in the ocean splashing and flinging them into the air and then you’ve got to build a sand castle to rival all sand castles. According to the new parenting standards floating around out there in the collective conversation and written across other parent’s expressions, that’s what a good parent does.

When I was a kid, my mom didn’t even come to the swimming pool with us. Nobody’s mom did. One mom dropped us off and another mom picked us up; that was the extent of mom involvement. But now, if you so much as dare whip out your iPhone for a little surfing break while your kids are playing at the park, you’re sure to get Stink Eye directed your way from all the “good parents.”

As Jennifer Hicks writes in a post called “So You Think I’m a Bad Mom For Not Playing With My Kids at the Pool” over on The Huffington Post, as she was sitting on a blanket near the swimming pool where her teenage kids were playing, she overheard another mom say this about her: “It’s a shame that some parents just sit on their blankets and miss out on playing with their kids at the pool. It’s sad.”

The mom made the comment to her own daughter but said it in a way that was meant to be overheard by Hicks. Hicks goes on to list a bunch of reasons for why she was sitting on her blanket that the mom maybe hadn’t considered; that she had left the pool for a break after spending an hour playing with her daughters, that she usually spends more time in the water with the girls but this was one of those rare times that she didn’t, mostly because the girls are older now and don’t actually want mom in the water with them, that her kids had friends at the pool.

While I get the point Hicks is trying to make, she still felt the need to list the reasons to try to justify why she was relaxing on the blanket. Jennifer Hicks! No excuses. You can relax on that blanket for three hours, if you want. And I don’t care if you do that every damn time you take your kids to the pool! The fact that you’re even at the pool means you’re doing it better than I am. I can’t remember the last time I took my kids to the pool as it was at least a month ago. It’s like taking your kids to fun places isn’t good enough anymore, we have to do the thing too. Taking the kids roller skating? Strap on your skates, mom. Headed to the amusement park? Get your ass on that ride that makes you puke, sister-friend because if you don’t you’re just a bad mom.

Call me a bad mom, then, because just as I refuse to spend a million bucks on my kid’s birthday party or enroll her in every extra-curricular activity around just to keep up with everyone else, I also refuse to splash around like a maniac in a freezing swimming pool if I don’t feel like it. They’re at the pool, aren’t they? That’s winning at motherhood in my book. Our kids are such delicate flowers that not only must everyone get a trophy every time they so much as bend a knee at an event but we need to jump in every pool and brave every waterslide instead of just looking up and waving all two-thousand times they shout MOM WATCH! MOM WATCH! MOM! MOM! MOM! LOOK AT ME! MOM, LOOK AT ME!

Thing is, it isn’t just other mothers judging, it’s dads too. Yesterday it was specifically my kids’ dad. We took the kids to a big fair that happens every year near our town. My son really got a kick out of those huge slides that you slide down with a burlap sack. You know the ones. They’re at every fair and you have to climb fifty sweaty stories while lugging your sack just to have some creepy fair guy help you tuck your feet into your sack and give you a shove whether you want him to or not.

So, Henry is getting his slide on and he’s cracking me up because he laughs all the way to the bottom then looks at me hopefully and asks, “One more time?” and when I give him the okay he erupts with Christmas morning joy and races to the top of the slide. Usually I go down the slide with my kids but this time, after dealing with crying, whining kids and 90 degree heat I decided to sit this one out although, for the first TEN slides I stood at the side WOOHOO-ing like a maniac each time they came down. Eventually Violet tired of the slide and wanted to try other rides, so Serge said we should all leave the slide. Except Henry didn’t want to go.

“But Henry digs the slide.” I said.

“He needs to try other stuff.” He said.

“But why? We’re here to have fun and if the slide is it for him, then why not let him go to town?”

“You’re just saying that because you want to sit here and…” He gave the phone I was holding in my hand a pointed look before taking our daughter over to some helicopter ride action.

And so what if I did want to sit on the bench for five minutes while my son slides and mess with my phone? That makes me a bad parent? I need to be in on every second of the action or else risk the judgment of others? And forget about judgment, I’m trying to avoid complete and total burnout here. Any mom can tell you her entire day is spent responding to the needs of this child and that child and the dog and the phone call from your health insurance company that lasted 50 agonizing minutes and the bill you had to pay and then this child and that child and this child and that child and yet I still brought you to the freaking fair or the swimming pool or the park and CAN I NOT SIT HERE AND LOOK AT MY PHONE FOR TEN SECONDS WITHOUT GETTING A STINK EYE FROM SOMEONE?

The “good moms,” or the women who want you to think they’re the “good moms,” say no. You know what I say? Take your breaks where you can get ‘em, parents. We all know how absolutely soul-sucking parenting can be and if I see you sitting on a bench at the park typing into your phone while your kids play you wanna know what I think? I think, Good for you! You made it to the park today! How nice for the kids!

More on Babble:

12 parents in desperate need of an intervention

11 mistakes ALL parents make (even the perfect ones!)

Moms and dads confess: “The laziest thing I’ve ever done as a parent”

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