So many ways to suck at parenting

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That’s the word that woke L.A. Times columnist Rosa Brooks up in a cold sweat recently. She’d remembered that she’d promised to supply her child’s class with snacks the next morning, an ordeal she recounts in a column this week titled, “Modern ‘parenting’ insanity:
having kids today has turned into a full-time job and career killer, especially for mothers.”

I had forgotten — how could I have forgotten? — that I had volunteered to bring snack food for 30 children to my daughter’s preschool at 8:30 a.m. And not just any snack food. It had to consist of fruit and/or vegetable plus protein and/or complex carbohydrate and be prepared in individual, child-sized servings.

Frantic, I searched the cupboards. Pasta, cereal — who was I kidding?

Bad parent.

It’s a feeling I suspect most parents — particularly mothers — get a lot these days.

My friend Gerry sent me this link, adding the note: “Are we all nuts?” To which his wife Rachel answered, “Nuts? She can’t put nuts in the snack. My God, are you crazy!?!” …which, of course, is Gerry’s point precisely.

I totally empathize with Brooks.

Modern parenting is wildly labor-intensive from Day 1. Modern babies, we’re told, won’t even sleep unless their parents camp out on the floor and stagger up blearily to provide reassurance every few hours. Then there’s the infant feeding mantra “breast is best,” which requires someone-who-just-happens-to-be-female to be physically attached either to a baby or to a milk-pumping machine every couple of hours for, oh . . . a year or so per child. Hey, no problem! It’s not like you wanted to get any work done, right, ladies?

From there, we move smoothly (or not) to infant swim classes and play groups (miss those crucial early skills-building opportunities and your child may never catch up). Then there’s preschool and the making of complex snacks and lunches. Next, there’s soccer and ballet and tutoring and the endless chauffeuring of children to activities, a process that pretty much eliminates parental free time on the weekends, in addition to eliminating children’s time for free, unstructured play.

A couple weekends ago, I had dinner in the city with some girlfriends. Let me say that again: I had dinner, out, with just grown-ups, in a nice West Village restaurant, on a weekend. At night. This never happens. And yet I felt awful as I left my tot with a sitter. As we gorged on heirloom tomatoes and fried zucchini blossoms, one friend recounted her Saturday thus far: swim lessons, then soccer, then ballet. Time for a pedicure? Nah. Another friend told of how guilty she felt moving her home office for her fast-growing business from the hallway, where her daughter could regularly pay visits, to a room with a door.

Guilt. It’s the defining emotion of working parenthood. But why? All our kids are healthy, thriving, positively adored. Even though I don’t get to watch her eat it, I manage to make my kid a nice lunch every day. Like so:


Clockwise from top left: banana; fruit cup; pretzels; lunch, including two onigiri (rice balls), celery, Japanese pickles, carrots, one turkey meatball, bits of leftover bulgogi Korean beef barbecue. Eat that, Jessica Seinfeld.