According to Barbie, I Might be a Bad Mom


The other day, I was in the kitchen cleaning up after lunch while my kids played Barbies in the other room. As I crunched across the crumb-covered floor, loading the dishwasher and putting away the peanut butter jar, their dolls were preparing for an adventure. I smiled listening to the elaborate story-line playing out, having no idea it would soon lead to my existential parenting crisis of the day. “Let’s load up the camper and head to the beach,” my three year old’s sweet voice echoed across the house. They packed their Barbie family, made a stop at some castle or another, sang “Happy Birthday,” and debated whether or not the family dog needed a potty break. I absently scraped solidified jelly from the table and half-listened to their chatter while mentally making a grocery list and contemplating homeschooling my kindergartener next year. Suddenly, something from the playroom made me stop in my tracks. I stood there, wet rag in hand, a puddle of dirty dish water dripping at my feet.

“No Chelsea, you can’t go play right now. I told you to clean up this mess and I still see toys on the floor!” my older daughter angrily shouted, narrating for the half-naked Barbie playing the role of “mom.” They were my own words echoing back to me. “Is that what I sound like? I wondered to myself. Come to think of it, when my girls play, Barbie-mom usually is kind of a drag—she gets angry, doles out punishments, and says “no” a lot. To be honest, Barbie has always kind of been my role model—she’s young, she’s hot, and she’s got a rockin’ bod (I mean, physically, it’s like looking in a mirror…or at least what I imagine I’d look like without the wrinkles, under eye bags, and cellulite). But this Barbie was a shrill, angry, party-pooper…not someone I aspire to be. Is that how my kids think moms should be? It really made me stop and think…am I a bad parent?

Is it wrong to laugh when my kids get hurt?

For some reason, I have to stifle my laughter every time my kids fall down. Every. Time. The other day my oldest daughter fell down. Hard. On our tile floor. And I know how much that hurts, because I did the same thing last summer when I tripped over our old, arthritic, and immuno-compromised dog splayed out on the cool floor (and I haven’t completely forgiven her for choosing that exact spot to lie down). A full year later, and my knee is still killing me (of course, my whole body is aching on a regular basis, so it may not be fair to blame it all on the dog). But for some reason, when my daughter fell down, my first reaction was to laugh. And this wasn’t the first time, either. In fact, it happens so frequently I have a signature move—scoop up hurt kiddo and hold tight to chest. Partially to soothe and show my love…but mostly to hide my laughing face. Sometimes, it gets so bad I have to throw in a fake-cough (a dangerous game in COVID-times) for extra cover. Anyone else? I can’t be the only one—I mean, there is an entire genre of slapstick comedy built on this phenomenon! Of course, it’s difficult to build empathy and resilience in your kids when you laugh every time they get hurt.

Is it wrong to hide from my crying kids?

My girls have gotten really close all these months together in quarantine. They laugh together, they play together, and (like all siblings) they fight together. Sometimes I wait (and hide), when I hear the crying start. Usually one kiddo is enraged because the other kiddo took a toy or won’t go along with the story-line (“I WON’T go to The King’s Crown with you!” For those  who aren’t Fancy Nancy aficionados, The King’s Crown is a mediocre family-friendly restaurant. Oh, and it’s not real…but it is to them.). My girls have shed enough tears (and the youngest has shed enough blood) that I’ve learned the difference between a hurt cry and a rage cry. And if it’s the latter, I just sit back and let them sort it out. This is just me helping to build resiliency and problem-solving skills…right?

Is it wrong to mutter for f*ck sake, what now? under my breath when I hear someone yell mama?

I love my kids. They are, hands down, the best part of my life. In fact, I love them so much, I keep trying to trick my husband into going for number three (so far, he’s not biting)! But man, no matter where I am or what time of day it is, when I hear that “MAMA!!!” screeching across the house, my heart skips a beat. And my first thought is, “Sigh, what now???” (do you think they can hear me mutter that under my breath?). And boy do I feel like an ass when it’s my sweet little girl running to find me because she “just needs a mama hug.” Shit, do you think they can sense my guilt?

Is it wrong to read a million parenting books, then forget everything I read in the moment?

I try. Really, I do. My nightstand is littered with books promising to help me understand my kiddos, be a better mother, and raise my girls to be confident and productive members of society. I’ve read The Whole Brain Child, No Drama Discipline, The Yes Brain, Simplicity Parenting, and Siblings without Rivalry cover to cover. Janet Lansbury’s Unruffled podcast is a regular on my playlist. I know so much about child development and positive parenting, that I probably should have an advanced degree in the subject. Yet, somehow, every morning when my daughter drags her feet about brushing her teeth and getting dressed, I draw a blank and instead lose my mind in frustration that she won’t just do it already. Well, at least I’m modeling that adults have feelings too…right?

Am I a bad parent? Upon reflection, yes, probably. But every time I see my girls sharing a special toy or offering a hug when they see someone sad, I figure I can’t be messing them up too much. I must be doing something right…right? In the meantime, I’ll try to be a little bit less like angry Barbie-mom…but I am going to keep striving for her cup size. What’s your best bad-parenting moment? 

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