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Parenting: This Sh*t Is Hard

September 19, 2017

 

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Parenthood: the most rewarding, important, maddening, joyful, frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating, tedious, frenetic, terrifying job in the world.  And despite troves of parenting books and an abundance of (often unsolicited) advice, the truth is that when you’re in the thick of it, most of that goes out the window.  Parenting in person is a whole lot trickier than parenting on paper.

I should know.  After all, I am an “expert.”  I have a degree in child development, a career spent providing support and education for parents and running child care centers and preschools, and enough continuing education to justify a second degree.

And yet…sometimes I flat out suck at this parenting gig.  Not “forgot to pack a vegetable in my kid’s lunch” suck.  No, we’re talking “completely lost my mind and screamed at my teenager in the midst of a fight” suck.  Serious suckage.

Y’all, there ain’t no guilt like sucky parenting guilt.  It makes all other guilt feel wildly inferior.  That other guilt wants to be parenting guilt when it grows up.  It’s epic.  

So how could someone with my education, my experience, my expertise have moments when she completely fails as a mom?  I don’t have an excuse, but I do have an explanation: this shit is (in my professional opinion) hard.  It’s hard to have a job with no quitting time, no vacation days, no sick days, no lunch breaks, no training manual.  It’s hard to parent when you’re tired, or sick, or stressed, or sad, or distracted.  It’s hard to keep your cool when your child is testing limits, pushing buttons, acting out.  It’s hard to say and do the right thing ALL. THE DAMN. TIME.

The fact is, no one is going to parent perfectly.  We are imperfect people raising imperfect children in an imperfect world.  So how do we deal with those moments when we feel like we’re screwing everything up?  How do we live with the guilt of knowing we parented wrong? 

We own it.

Our children need us to.  They need to know that we make mistakes.  That we learn from them.  That we apologize for them.  They need to hear us say, “I screwed up and I’m sorry.”  They need us to listen when they tell us how it made them feel.  They need to know that we love them so fiercely and so completely that nothing could ever change that.  And hugs help.  A lot.

A few nights ago my teenage son and I got into an argument.  Honestly, this doesn’t happen very often and I know I’m lucky to have a teenager who makes parenting him pretty darn easy most of the time.  But this was a doozy.  It got heated, we both said things we shouldn’t have, our voices raised, our words barbed.  I lost control of my adult-ing and allowed myself to react like I was a teenager, too.  And (duh) that escalated the situation.

But in the middle of that unhealthy exchange, I suddenly saw through the veil of my son’s anger and realized what was in his eyes:  pain.  Pain that took my breath away and made me quiet my voice and soften my heart.  I paused and saw what he was feeling and realized that I was, in large part, the cause of it.  My heart broke, but in the breaking light found its way in and illuminated the core of my motherhood.

I took him in my arms and we both sobbed.  We sat down on his bed together and talked. We apologized.  We shared.  We sought to understand each other.  We worked it out…together.

It was horrible and wonderful and heartbreaking and healing.  It was parenthood in all its messy glory.  It was a low and a high all wrapped up in one opportunity to become a better parent.

Isn’t that the goal, after all?  To become better at this?  Parenting is complicated.  It’s challenging.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  But isn’t that true of anything worth having?

I still feel guilt.  I still remember every instance over the past sixteen years when I could have handled a situation differently, when I could have shown more patience, been kinder.  I’m a work in progress as a human and as a mama.  But like I told my son the other night, there’s no one in this world who could love these kids harder.  Parenting them is a privilege and an honor, and the lessons they teach me are the toughest and most important ones I will ever learn.  It may require a lifetime of on-the-job continuing education, but I’ll keep taking notes in my heart and giving it my best shot.

And saving up for therapy, just in case.

 

 

 

 

 

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