Something happened last week that caught me off guard. Facebook finally made me question my parenting.
Scrolling through my newsfeed has made me wish I was somewhere else more than once. It has made me jealous, of friends and family members who are together for important events, making me wish I wasn’t too far away to celebrate my cousins’ weddings, or join my in-laws for a relaxing vacation in Mexico. While I click through the adorable pictures of my nieces and nephews, and “like” my loved ones’ status updates sharing how much fun they are having, I am happy for them, but sad for myself.
Those feelings are common, but I don’t recall ever feeling like less of a parent because of anything my Facebook friends have posted.
This day was different. My feelings of inadequacy weren’t over an elaborate fall craft, or a perfect family photo, or someone’s kid’s Mensa membership. I recognize that one person’s accomplishment has no bearing on my successes or failures, which is good, because I have a ridiculous amount of successful people with great lives in my newsfeed.
On this day, I was stopped short by a conversation about allowing children to use the bathroom alone at restaurants. Someone asked when others let their kids use public restrooms, and the responses took me by surprise. For the first time, Facebook made me wonder if I was parenting wrong.
Some of the parents, mostly mothers, were still escorting their 8, 10, and even 14-year-old children to the bathroom at restaurants and stores. By comparison, if we are familiar with an establishment, and I can see the restroom door from my location, I will allow my six-year-old son to go to the men’s room alone. I didn’t even share my situation on this thread, afraid of the backlash from more cautious parents. Would they think I was neglectful? Am I neglectful?
And then I took a step back. I thought about the first time this topic became an issue for my son and me. We were at a birthday party for one of his classmates, and the bathrooms weren’t singles. He didn’t want to use the same public bathroom the girls from his school were using, and I didn’t blame him. I allowed him to use the men’s room, with the reminder to come right back out, but not before he washed those little hands he always forgets to throw some soap and water on. And don’t talk to anyone in there.
After that occasion, we still went with him when he had to go in public bathrooms, but once in a while, if the situation was right, he could use the bathroom himself, and now, as a first grader, he is experiencing this freedom more frequently.
Was it scary the first few times he disappeared behind that door? Incredibly. It was also scary to drive him home from the hospital. Watching him walk for the first time, unsteady on his tiny legs, made my heart lurch and my brain fill with visions of him falling and cracking his face on every conceivable hard, sharp object. Witnessing his four-year-old body teeter and take off on his training wheel-free bike had me wondering how long casts stay on these days. The first time a friend treated him badly, I wanted to intervene in the worst way.
I am a mom. Every new milestone means my boy is inching away from me. The more independent he is, the less he needs me. That is both invigorating, exciting, and heartbreaking. But I can’t let my personal feelings of fear and discomfort cloud the opportunities to let my boy spread his wings, because he will need to fly. I want him to fly.
Having kids is terrifying. The media has led us to believe our world is more dangerous than when we were kids, and that is simply not true. Crime is down, but many people think it is up. Way up. I know this is why many parents are afraid of allowing their children to visit public bathrooms alone, and I am not asking anyone else to do something they don’t think is best for their family, but personally, I am back on steady ground. I am comfortable with my family’s choice, even though my track record of being unaffected by Facebook is broken.