The true meaning of “you can’t please everyone” can’t be fully understood until you write something. And then publish it.
I gave up pleasing everyone when my first column was published 10 years ago.
“You’ll always make 50 percent of your readers angry,” my first editor said.
He appeared to be correct.
However, I revisited the idea (“Maybe you can please some of the people all of the time?”) when my second child was born. I mean, really, how can an infant complain if you wear him against your chest from morning to night and feed him every two hours?
Turns out, infants have much to complain about. And so do their 2-year-old brothers.
I finally abandoned any of these crowd-pleasing fantasies for good after becoming the mother to three boys. It’s hard to split a cookie, much less a mother, three ways. Sometimes, in fact, I feel like I’m playing Whack-a-Mole: As soon as one child is fed and happy, a voice from the other room says, “Moooooooom?”
Someone should have warned me sooner: You can’t please everyone. You can’t even please some of them. And for no amount of time.
A few years ago, I wrote a column about impatient drivers. I was reading James Kunstler’s “Geography of Nowhere” and felt a recurring urge to blame automobiles for all of society’s problems. In particular, I was mad at the drivers going 20 mph over the speed limit down our residential street. “What’s the big hurry?” I asked. I described how my children sometimes had to ride their bikes up onto the grass to avoid getting hit. They weren’t riding their bikes on the interstate, but often it felt that way.
I anticipated support for the column. Who could be against children playing outside in a neighborhood where the speed limit is 25 mph?
Answer: lots of people.
Online message boards were abuzz: Sarah Smiley lets her kids play outside. In the street. In traffic.
I was pegged as a neglectful mother. Someone even threatened to call Child Protective Services.
So I wrote a follow-up column and asked: How, in just one generation, have we become a society in which “good parenting” does not mean shooing your kids outdoors to play with the neighborhood kids but rather keeping them locked inside with a television and video games?
When I was a kid, a “good parent” limited the amount of time her children spent playing Atari. A “good parent” made her children go outside.
Now I was being persecuted for it.
That storm blew over just in time for a new one: Sarah Smiley lets her children watch “SpongeBob Squarepants.”
After I wrote a column defending SpongeBob against a new “scientific” study claiming he is bad for 4-year-olds, online commenters alluded to the presumably tough road ahead for my supposedly brainless children who watch something as dumb and offensive as SpongeBob.
Readers asked, “Whatever happened to making kids go outside to play?”
Oh, I’ve tried that.
But between the people playing NASCAR driver and the critics demanding that my parenting be evaluated, I figured having my kids watch television would be welcomed.
Wait, what’s that you say? I’ve got it all wrong? I’m supposed to keep my kids indoors but do crafts with them and teach them Chinese, too?
Forget automobiles, the real problem with today’s society is that we demand everything from mothers, then we tie their hands and slap their wrists when they get it all “wrong.” We’ve turned mothers into crowd-pleasing robots who ignore their own better judgment and sway to whatever the most recent research says or what the woman next door is doing.
Readers didn’t like that my boys ride bikes in the neighborhood. Readers also didn’t like that my boys watch SpongeBob. If only readers knew that I sometimes let my boys eat Wendy’s for dinner, go two nights without a bath or that the older ones have seen all of the “Star Wars” episodes. (Yes, even Episode Three.)
If only readers also knew that we play baseball together as a family, grow pumpkins in the backyard, make snow globes every Christmas, read together before bed, go to church on Sunday and eat as family — at a table — every night.
If only readers knew that my boys write books, build forts, play musical instruments and ask questions like “Is it possible to be truly selfless?”
I suppose I could shuttle my kids from organized activity to organized activity so that they have less time to ride bikes and watch SpongeBob. However, the truth is some days they sit around and watch television, but most days they are busy doing … stuff. I don’t know exactly what they do. I don’t pretend to think I should. I hear them laughing and screaming in the backyard, and my only hope is they don’t trample the pumpkins.
Each night, they come to the dinner table tired, dirty (sometimes wet) and hungry. And that seems like a pretty good day to me. I am pleased.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.