Go ahead and judge.

Go ahead and judge.

I need to get something off my chest.

I am not a great mom because of the lunches I pack for my kids.

Lately, I’ve noticed something – a new phenomenon, or a more widespread phenomenon, that’s taking hold not only on my site and social media platforms, but on the sites and social media platforms of other bloggers as well.  It goes something like this:


  1. Blogger posts about child’s school lunch/dinner/breakfast.
  2. Readers say “You are such a good mom!” (or some variation thereof)
  3. I feel uncomfortable for reasons I can’t quite explain.

But let me explain them anyway.  It’s not that I dislike hearing from people that they think I’m a great mom.  Heck, in this parenting gig, we can all use whatever praise we can get, am I right?  So if you’re one of the people who enjoys seeing my kids’ lunches and telling me that in your estimation, those lunches make me a great mom, please don’t think I’m asking you to stop.  (Go on.  No, really!  Go on.)  Seriously, though – you can still give me compliments if you want to.  I just want to establish an understanding between us first.

My definition of a good mom (or parent – no need for us to be gendered about this) is somebody who gets up every single day and gives the best of what they’ve got to give to their kids.  Sure, the best of what you’ve got might vary a bit from day to day; the best I’ve got on a day when I’m battling a head cold, for example, is far less stellar than the best I’ve got on a perfect, cloudless Saturday fueled by good coffee and morning cuddles.  But if you give your time, your attention, your energy, and yes, a bit of material care in the form of food, clothing, and shelter to your children every day, and give all of those things freely with love and best intentions, I think you’re a good parent.

That means you, Single Parent, peeling yourself out of bed every morning to start another day of juggling.  You’re a good parent.  When you send the kids off with the milk money for their school lunch, in their clean clothes that you stayed up late to wash, with their backpacks full of the homework you supervised no matter how tired you were after a long day at your job or your two jobs, you’re a good parent.  The fact that those backpacks don’t include a cute container filled with somebody else’s idea of “the right” food does not in ANY WAY diminish you or your accomplishments.  When you pick up the kids at the end of the day from their sitter or their after-school programs, and you figure out how to get dinner into everybody’s bellies with the time and the money and the energy you have left, and you make it to their Open Houses and their Art Nights and you read the bedtime stories and you are more concerned at 10 p.m. about paying the electric bill or figuring out how to get the car fixed than you are about shuffling into the kitchen to pack a nourishing lunch with a cute napkin and a loving note…you are a good parent.  You are Getting It Done and your kids feel loved and safe, and I admire you.

See, I think what’s bothering me is not that people think that I am a good mom because of the lunches I pack and the dinners I make.  I AM a good mom, most days, irrespective of the lunches, but I know that what you’re really reacting to is that the lunches are an easy symbol of the time and care and thought that good parents put into raising their kids.  What bothers me isn’t your praise; it’s what I think praising people who pack pretty lunches as “good parents,” without getting the rest of the story, implies about the parents on the flip side of that coin.  If “good parenting” can be defined so easily by a bento box of salad, then what does it mean when a parent sends their kid off to school without one?  When lunch is a pbj made with – horrors! – Wonder Bread and Peter Pan?  What does it say when lunch isn’t pretty and fabulous because lunch was provided partly by WIC or by the school or by the local food pantry?  Or maybe lunch isn’t pretty and fabulous because Mom and Dad have plenty of money, but not enough time and energy in between somebody’s chemo appointments or caring for the intense needs of another child in the family or looking after Grandma to care whether or not the pretzels are whole-grain?

Are those people not good parents?  I wouldn’t say that at all.  I would say that the lunch doesn’t give you enough information to judge.  Lunch almost never does.  The day I saw a good parent I know bringing his son’s lunch – a box of frozen Tater-Tots and a Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast sandwich – to school, I could easily have judged him for that, except that I had the rest of the information.  Information that told me they’d just welcomed their second child a day or two earlier, they had no help at home, the oldest wasn’t sleeping well because of the adjustment, Mom wasn’t healing well, the baby was fussy, and Dad was taking care of all of them in basic survival mode.  And he was rocking it the only way he knew how.  Which makes him a good parent, frozen Tater-Tot decision notwithstanding.  (I’m chalking that one up to sleep deprivation.  We’ve all been there.)

I could pack all the cute bento box lunches in the world and still turn around and snap at my kids.  I could miss their Open House nights and their soccer games, I could fail to set appropriate limits, I could tune into my screens instead of tuning into them.  I could never read a single bedtime story no matter how much they might ask for one.  I could say things to them that cut them down instead of building them up.  I could do all of those things routinely, and still pack a cute bento lunch, and you would never know it.  You’d still call me a great mom.  Because of the lunch.

Which, honestly, seems kind of silly, if you think about it.  A single snapshot in a single moment of a single day.  How many of us could be accurately judged as parents or people by that kind of measurement?

So if you want to call me a great mom for packing good lunches, or because you’ve hung around my blog long enough to feel like you’ve picked up on some other cues that tell you more of my story, that’s okay with me.  Just do me a favor and make sure that every time you call ME a great mom, you then go out into the world and find another parent whose “greatness” isn’t so obvious.  Find somebody who probably really needs to hear it.  Find them, and tell them, with kindness in your heart, no matter what kind of lunch their kids are eating.  Praise the greatness of the entirety of their story.  Circumstances can change, lunches can change, but good parents are good parents forever and always.