Is abuse and neglect the only form of bad parenting? Is everyone really just doing the best they can?
I'm going to go easy on you and hand out the answers; no and no.
Can I preface this post with something? I believe I am a good parent. I know enough to know I'm doing some things right. I am absolutely consumed with love for her. I play with her, I talk to her, and I don't cover up her faults. I tell her she's beautiful but not nearly as often as I tell her she's smart. I feed her well balanced meals nearly all of the time, but I do not keep her from the occasional fun snack. I care about who she is going to be enough to discipline her now, while still making sure I talk kindly to her, more often than sternly. Even though it can be difficult, we take her out and about; we do not stay housebound. We do so because we know our struggles now will help her shape up into a well experienced, socialized person. And dealing with one year old tantrums is much easier than 5 or 6 year old tantrums. We know if we don't teach her, she won't learn. We know her entire life, her tiny section of the world, is so shaped and influenced by us it is almost scary. We fully understand what an honor and a blessing it is to have been given this child and we try our absolute hardest to not take it for granted.
All of that is not to say I am the perfect parent. Or even close to it. It's not to say I don't get frustrated, that I never give in and let her eat graham crackers for breakfast, that I don't ever get lazy or have never hid the book I am sick of reading over and over. Because I do. I have and I am and I'm sure I will again.
It is, however, to say I give it an earnest shot. Every day. I consciously think about how what I'm doing- or not doing- affects her. Is it for her or is it for me? I don't just think about the mess, I think about if the mess is worth it. It almost always is. I don't just think about how hot it'll be sitting outside, I think about the joy she experiences chasing the dogs, throwing rocks in the garden and splashing in her pool. I don't simply consider how much work it is to wake up early, shower, dress, feed and car seat her, I consider how important it is to us that she grows up going to church. I may get frustrated about it, but I don't let the fact that I know she probably won't eat it deter me from taking the time to make her a healthy meal. I don't eat things in front of her that I don't want her eating, and I try not to stay up too late, knowing morning always comes at the same time and I won't be nearly the parent I could be if I'm not well rested.
No one ever said it was easy. But someone (lots of people, actually) did once say that things worth doing are rarely easy.
Parenting is so much more than the required feeding, bathing, nail-clipping, sheet washing, car seat safety-knowing of many parenting books. And I will say it now and say it again, but abuse and neglect are not the only form of poor parenting. In fact, I'd wager to say it is much more difficult to be in the 'good' parent category than the 'poor.' We are not all doing the best we can. If you are letting your kid live in front of the TV, not getting down on the floor to play with and read to them, spending more time doing things for yourself, and disregarding behavioral and safety standards, you are a bad parent in my book. Yeah, you may not be starving or hitting your kid, but they, too, will suffer from your (lack of) parenting.
Having a bad or lazy day doesn't make you a bad parent. Nor does taking time for yourself. That is not the point I am aiming to make. What makes you a bad parent is consistently not doing what is best for your child. Being as every kid is different, what your child needs may vary slightly from what other children need, but overall, kids need much of the same. Time, attention, love and you. So often those things are even more important than the basic physical needs.
It really irks me when people say we're all just doing the best we can. Not only is that a horrible excuse, it makes people who probably know they aren't being a great parent believe that they're doing enough. We are shaping lives. We are taking blank slates and turning them into chalkboards full of answers, and to do any less would not only be doing a disservice to the individual, but our world as a whole.
(I apologize if this comes off as negative; it was written out of frustration. I am so sick of watching parents who don't stop their pre-parent lifestyle or who are far too selfish continue to treat their kids as if they're no more than caged pets that just need food and clean bedding every now and then. If you know me, you know I am oh so very against big government, but I sure wish you had to get a permit to get the privilege of parenting.)