So many people I know publicly beat themselves up for their parenting fails. These are people who not only love their kids, but show up for them, all the time. Children, especially little ones are magical. I look at this photo of my daughter at age five dressed as Tinkerbell for Halloween, and I am filled with longing for the sweet, little child she was, and proud of the young woman she is becoming. Her life has had its ups and downs, and difficulties due to me, and to my ex, including our split. I haven’t given her a perfect life, and frankly I haven’t even tried. It’s hard enough just getting to school to pick her up on time.
Before I became a parent I had a lot of ideas about what it meant to be someone’s mom. Based on the parenting I received, from a series of women, including my mother, my maternal grandmother, my stepmother, plus some surrogates along the way, I swore to always or never do certain things. And then I was (literally) presented with a 13 month old baby, and there was no on ramp. When you give birth, or adopt a newborn there is some time to adjust to your new role while your sweet little bundle is mainly just that, a bundle who cries and poops and sleeps, and yes, I understand you’re exhausted, and sleep deprived, but there’s not a lot you can screw up yet.
Once I started actually being someone’s mommy I found myself making decisions and taking actions in ways I hadn’t foreseen. She was the center of my world, my consciousness, and my schedule. I worked full time, but every moment with her was filled with wonder, and mistakes. In her first month with me she dumped a bottle of Pine Sol on herself and the rug, she fell and split her lip, cried herself to sleep while I stood outside her door, and I left her in the care of others. She was fine.
I could fill a large book with everything I did wrong, forgot or screwed up, hurt her feelings, or disappointed her… And still she is lovely, and kind and smart and simply wonderful, and she is those things not because of the balls I dropped, but because through it all I was present for her. I never hid in shame from her when I messed up. We talked about it, I let her tell me how mad, scared or upset she was. She has a strong belief in herself because she know without a doubt that I love her and that no matter what happens I will be there for her. That I want her to be who she truly is and wants to be.
She has seen me screw up and carry on. She understands accountability because I hold myself accountable to her, and to others. She hears me apologize without making excuses (most of the time), she sees me fix the things I’ve done wrong, she understands that there isn’t much that will happen that can’t be fixed as long as we bring it into the light and talk about it. I believe my job is to help her grow up and explore who she is, and know she will always have a safe place with me, whether she is a nine year old with a friend who betrayed her, a sixteen year old getting her heart broken, or a twenty year old struggling with college life and the pressures she feels.
If we appear perfect to our children, if we never show them our foibles and weaknesses, if we catch them each time they fall we raise needy, entitled individuals with poor problem solving skills. We will also make them believe that there is such a thing as perfect parenting setting them up to see themselves as failures when they become parents who are imperfect just like us. Next time you get the date or time wrong for a birthday party, apologize, and own it. You will be teaching a much better lesson by doing that, than you do by beating yourself up and acting like this makes you a lousy parent. Your child needs you to be truly present not perfect!