I'm going to say the thing that moms aren't supposed to say.
My kids eat chicken nuggets for dinner. Frequently. And... I'm cool with it.
I realize my potential for being judged here is high. I'm supposed to want to serve and protect my children from the perils of artificial additives. I'm supposed to strive to provide full, healthy meals for these growing human beings. I'm supposed to value family dinner as a time to connect with my children, to talk with them about their day, to foster this web of safety and security and togetherness. I'm supposed to serve terrific multiple-course meals in an apron and pearls and heels like something out of a Rockwell painting. Right?
At any rate, I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to stand in my underwear eating their dinner scraps over the sink hours after I've shuffled them through baths and off to bed.
Yes, I've seen the pink slime videos that made the rounds a year or so ago. Yes, I've read the reports and news pieces claiming that children who don't have family dinnertime turn into raging murderous psychopaths. Yes, I've debated whole-wheat and gluten-free and breast vs. bottle with a number of men and women, half of whom believed the other half to be disastrously wrong.
And still, my kids eat chicken nuggets, canned Spaghettio's and, sometimes, cereal for dinner.
Other parenting atrocities committed in my home? I sometimes use the television to babysit. I don't read to my children as much as I should. They don't get my full attention when they're out back playing on the swing set and I'm trying to do one of the million chores that keep popping up. There are times they go to bed without brushing their teeth, and I expect that they're old enough to take showers alone. My children do not earn an allowance; they earn the opportunity to not be grounded by doing their chores.
Our lives are chaotic. I have five children, each of them enrolled in one activity of their choosing. We're always running, and my survey of their day usually happens in the car on the way to some sort of practice while they're wolfing down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and juice boxes.
It wasn't always like this. It used to really bother me if my kids didn't get the full food pyramid in every single meal. I used to buy organic baby food. I used to not be able to go to bed until my house was clean, toys put away, dishes washed. I used to be so schedule-oriented that we were early everywhere we went.
And it was quickly making me crazy. Legitimately bananas. To the point where I was hyperventilating if we were behind schedule. I was up until after midnight trying to keep the house in order. I once broke down crying in the grocery store because they didn't have the type of apples needed for the fruit-portion of my pre-planned dinner pyramid. It was too much. Something had to go.
So I created chore charts for my kids. By the age of 5, all of them knew how to load the dishwasher and organize their toys. I started accepting less than perfection and, slowly, a more tornadic state in my house. Because really, trying to pick up toys while the kids are still awake is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos. Completely useless. I started making dinnertime easier on myself. First of all, I hate cooking. Hate. It is not relaxing for me. I do not love the feel of eating something I've prepared. It's a pain in my ass, to be perfectly honest, and the only reason I did it in the first place was to nourish my children to the best of my ability. Which I still do, but it's not multiple-course, perfectly portioned deliciousness anymore. It's... chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. Or sometimes cereal. On Sunday nights my kiddos, solely, are responsible for coming up with a menu, getting it approved by me, preparing, serving and cleaning up their own dinner. Even my six year old is old enough to put together a salad, set the table and pour drinks.
And as far as I've noticed, no murderous psychopaths. Yet. But I've got the savings account going to cover bail money and therapy, just in case.
I'm a big believer, after 15 parenting years and five kiddos, of giving yourself a break. I think it's prudent -- even critical -- that children get alone time, learn responsibility and have the opportunity to make (and learn from) some dumb mistakes while still safe in the confines of their parents' home.
I think it's important to not hold yourself to such an impossible standard. The mom-shaming needs to stop but even more than that, we need to cut ourselves some slack. We need to forgive ourselves for our shortcomings -- like how we (OK, I) hate to cook. Or how my house isn't in perfect, sparkling, museum order like my mom kept ours all the time. It's OK to kick your feet up and have a beer at the end of the day. It's OK to make the kids sweep the floor and do some laundry. It's OK to ask them to entertain themselves once in awhile. It's OK.
But keep the savings account ready. Just in case.
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