Q&A: feeling like a parenting failure

"Desperately seeking advice" writes:

"From one mom of a toddler, to another toddler mom, am I a bad mother for not feeling capable of taking a rambunctious toddler grocery shopping with me, among other every day tasks?

Lately my husband has been making me feel as if I am a failure at this mommy stuff because I am unwilling to attempt grocery shopping alone with my 16 month old son.  He says that other mothers do it all the time, and make it look easy, so in his way of thinking, I must be failing somewhere in my own parenting abilities.

My husband has a career that takes him inside the homes of many other stay at home moms on a daily basis, and in situations were he feels my parenting skills are lacking, he always compares me to what he sees in those other mother's homes in the hour or so that he's around their families.  And although I know that this one incident alone does not make me a bad mom, does the fact that for the most part I find the job of  parenting OVERWHELMING, STRESSFUL, and HARD(!), really make me that much different from most of the other mothers out there?  Because I am really beginning to feel like a failure at parenting, and am finding it harder and harder to not feel alone in my struggles."

When your husband takes your 16-month-old grocery shopping does he find it easy? Perhaps he can share some of his tips for wrangling a rambunctious toddler, getting all the items you need, getting through check-out, then getting the groceries and your kid loaded into the car without roasting either child or food in a hot car in the process.

Seriously, though: Huh? He sees a SAHM who knows he's coming over for an hour and he thinks that's how she is all the time? Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Even I could look like Mrs. Dr. Phil for a few hours if I knew in advance someone would be coming over to observe me.

Yes, other mothers shop with toddlers all the time. It's possible. But is it easy? Is it fun? Would they leave the child at home if they had any other option? No, no, and yes, in that order. I mean, yeah, parents do all sorts of things that are odious and difficult every single day without complaint. But that doesn't mean those things don't suck, and that we wouldn't avoid them if we had any option to.

Speaking of which, many churches and mothers' groups have "drop 'n' shop" programs once a week. You can leave your toddler there to exchange immunities with other lovely children for a couple of hours while you go grocery shopping and run other errands. The very existence of these groups disprove your husband's theory that you're the only one who doesn't like to shop with a screeching octopus on meth. If there's no group near you, you could set up an exchange with some other moms--half of you stay with the kids one week, then the next week the rest of the moms stay with the kids. Rotate houses so no one has to vacuum up goo every week.

That will solve your immediate grocery-shopping problem. But the larger problem seems to be that your husband is being snookered by sample bias and doesn't realize it. The only way you're going to get him to face reality is to find some more non-Stepford parent friends. Then get all of you together for some weekend events, including the partners. When your husband starts talking to some other real parents he may start to realize that you're holding it together at least as well as the next SAHM. And maybe one of the other dads will invite him to bring your child out for a dads-only grocery-shopping excursion.

Reality might also pay a visit to your husband if you got a really serious cold that required you to stay in bed for 4-5 days so your husband had to do all your normal duties with your child along to help. But you didn't read that here.

Courage. 16-20 months is a really, really difficult phase. It'll get easier and you'll feel better-equipped to deal with everything in a few months once your kid is a little more mature. Kids this age are brutal, and can strip you of your confidence as a parent even if you've enjoyed every other stage so far.

(The good bad news is that once you have the second, shopping with only one kid in tow will seem like a piece of cake.)