Mommy Merit Badges

Do you remember your Girl Scout days? Going on campouts, roasting s'mores, and selling cookies. For me, the best part was the merit badges. They were such a source of pride and accomplishment. But what about now? Where are our badges for being moms?

Everything in this slideshow

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Stephen Campbell

Sure, we get the pride of presenting the world with a model citizen (knock on wood), yet we have to put up with a lot along the way: arguments about the value of underwear, tantrums in the frozen-food aisle, and vomit that always misses the toilet. Nobody hands out awards for this. So Parents created some. Don't worry. You don't have to be a supermom. These are awards any mom can earn -- we bet you've scored a few of them already.

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Stephen Campbell

Faker Baker

Who doesn't want to hear her child bragging that his mom rocked the bake sale? On the other hand, the darn thing is tomorrow and no one told you. Besides making a nutritious dinner, you have to help with homework and watch Mad Men. As if you have time to come up with some homemade cupcakes.

You've earned it if:
You ever bought a box of cupcakes at the store, individually repackaged each treat in colored plastic wrap, then put them all in a nice basket.

Voila -- just like homemade! Chances are your cupcakes were the first thing to be gobbled up -- after all, kids love things that look like special little presents. The real point is you let go of the guilt -- and you still had some energy left over to have a conversation with your husband. Plus, that experience gave you the courage to suggest a "no bake" bake sale for the next time to that intimidating group of do-it-all moms. And they ate it up.

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Stephen Campbell

Memory Maker

You know those seashells that your kid brought back from the beach? The ones that he forgot about until his room smelled like a wharf? And how about the piles of art projects with metallic paint and glitter glue? Let's not even discuss the thousands of baby pictures still stored on your computer's desktop. Someone has to organize your children's memories and mementos before you forget what belongs to whom.

You've earned it if:
You kept it simple but got it done.

Say, each year (even if you skipped a few and just started today) you took an acid-free photo box and in it put vacation pix, postcards, small souvenirs, and e-mails you sent your husband about something cute your kid had just said. Did you put together an online album? Or maybe you spent an hour one Saturday afternoon sorting through the preschool art projects worth saving (baby steps, baby steps).

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Stephen Campbell

Off the Hook

Do you consider The Wiggles family? Do you refer to yourself as Mommy when talking to other adults? Then it's time for a night out. But it's not so easy to lose yourself in the movie when the image of your child's tear-stained face smooshed against the living-room window is seared into your soul.

You've earned it if:
You've realized that an evening out -- with your husband, your girlfriends, or heck, just yourself -- can be a special treat not only for you but also for your kids.

Maybe you've taken them to the store and let them pick out cool swag -- sparkly nail polish or plastic dinosaurs to be opened only by the sitter. Or you've gone the extra distance and found someone who knows how to french-braid or do kung fu moves -- in other words, someone more fun than you. Smart. You may have scored yourself not just one but two nights out.

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Stephen Campbell

Fit In Fitness

We all know that we should exercise. Not only that, but our kids need us to be good role models. On the other hand, your workout shorts are in the washing machine, they never play your favorite TV channel at the gym, and it's hot outside (or cold, or foggy, or looking like rain). All good excuses, of course, but somehow the bathroom scale doesn't care one bit.

You've earned it if:
You've recently played "monster chase" with your 4-year-old, given aerobic piggyback rides, or joined in a high-stakes game of tag.

Exercise comes naturally to a kid, so you've smartly resolved that for 30 minutes a day, on most days, you'll act like one. Yes, you've gotten your butt kicked, but what a workout! It's true, you could've just mowed the lawn or vacuumed to burn off last night's bloomin' onion and "tastes" of ice cream, but as your child might say, "That's kind of lame, Mommy."

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Stephen Campbell

Penny Pincher

With money tight and the economy bleak, scoring a great deal on something you really need gives you more money to spend on -- well, other stuff you really need. When you find a bargain so good that you play the "guess how much I paid for this" game with your husband ("Go lower! No, even lower!"), then you may be eligible.

You've earned it if:
You tap into your inner bargain hunter on a regular basis.

For example, you've planned your visits to the Goodwill store based on the days it gets new arrivals. You skipped the Eggstractor and a compilation of The Brady Bunch episodes (must stay focused!), but you snared an awesome, shiny Huffy 3-speed for only $5. Your kids always have tons of fun because you let them try on funny hats and boas, which you secretly buy and then save for Halloween 2010. Most of all, you don't forget where you stashed all of those great finds.

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Stephen Campbell

Couch Potato

If you have small children, a break can be as elusive as a calorie-free chocolate bar. But just like a nice hot shower, a few minutes of downtime will leave you refreshed and ready to face whatever wackiness is coming at you next.

You've earned it if:
You completed the Fit in Fitness badge and afterward your bum made contact with the sofa for 15 full minutes.

(Sorry, it doesn't count if while on the couch you were refereeing a heated game of Candy Land.) If you're the mom of an infant, you've earned it if you've embraced the "sleeping while they sleep" rule. Have a toddler? Your efforts have to be more creative, like checking a few great story CDs out of the library and then making sure he listens to them -- in the other room.

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Stephen Campbell

Grain of Salt

Oh, unsolicited advice. The endless, free-flowing commentary that starts as soon as you show and ends, as far as we know, um...never? "Your baby's too hot/cold." "Stop nursing." "Keep nursing!" "You're too soft (or too tough) when it comes to discipline." "Your kid stays up too late!" You need to take this with a grain of salt.

You've earned it if:
You've stopped caring what other people think (unless you've actually asked).

You got this skill by saying to yourself, "I am the expert on my child" over and over until you believed it. The backseat child raiser is probably trying to help and may be right (even a stopped clock is correct twice a day). So you've got some polite stock phrase at the ready. For example: "Interesting idea!" or "I'll have to think about that." Then, you've learned to divert the conversation by saying something like, "Where did you buy those shoes? I love them!" while resisting the urge to tell her that she probably paid too much.

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Stephen Campbell

Just Say No

Do you want to organize the End-of-the-Year party? Can you watch your neighbor's kids -- all day? As important as it is to chip in and contribute, you need to know your limits. This is for the wise mom who knows that saying "no" is just as important as saying, "Of course I'll be the class parent again."

You've earned it if:
You've said the magic word without sounding or feeling guilty.

You've gained the hard-won knowledge that you're pulling your weight without signing up for every committee. You've realized that you're not doing anyone any favors if you overextend yourself and then totally burn out. And you don't have to come up with excuses or stammer "I'll think about it" (though that's better than a regret-stained "yes"). You understand that if you can manage to say "no" with a clear conscience, then when you say "I'd love to," it'll be because you mean it.

Originally published in the May 2009 issue of Parents magazine.

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