I used to be a perfect parent.
I had strong opinions about the best way to raise a happy, healthy, well-mannered child. I vowed that my children would appear well groomed and clean at all times. They would be disciplined by firm, fair, and consistent parenting techniques and they would always, always, be well behaved in a restaurant. And when they were older, I would instill a sense of self-confidence and mutual respect by showing them that I valued their opinions and by treating them as equals. My ideas were so straightforward and simple that I couldn't understand why other parents couldn't be as perfect as I was.
Then I had children.
I used to think that any mother whose child was dressed in mismatched clothes and had Kool-Aid stains around his lips before eleven o'clock in the morning was obviously an unfit parent who spends all day talking on the phone and serves Froot Loops and Popsicles for breakfast. My opinion changed when my daughter turned 2 and decided that she no longer wanted to wear clothing in public.
One minute she would be fully dressed, innocently sucking on a pacifier in her stroller. The next, she'd be waving at strangers wearing only a diaper and a pair of red patent leather shoes. The first few times this happened I put her clothes back on—only to have them flung at me again two seconds later. After several days of struggling to keep her fully dressed, I finally decided that it would be less stressful and much faster if she just started out naked when we left the house.1