Tonight, I want you to know this.
Tonight, I am a complete failure as a parent.
Nothing has gone right today. Well, OK, I did get my teenager away from his screen by luring him to our local “gourmet gas station” for a lychee-flavored soft drink.
This is a self-portrait of despair from when I was in my 20’s. Did I really think I understood despair then? Amazingly, I did. By the way, I loved that black shiki cushion in this photo. We had to get rid of it because our children would drag it out, set it up, and go crazy. Really. It was like the cushion was possessed with demons that entered our children and turned them into crazed munchkins. Finally, we gave it away to Goodwill, and they had to find other ways to inspire themselves to pinnacles of bad behavior.
But I’ll admit that’s not really a success, because I paid for less screen time with sugar wrapped in an exotic, overpriced bottle.
Otherwise, I have failed to do pretty much everything I set out to do:
- One child shrugs and says “OK” as an answer to pretty much any question I ask
- The other yells at me every single time I ask him to do the most minor of tasks
- I try collaborative problem-solving and am told that I am a hyper-controlling maniac
- I try to honor a child’s wishes and find out that she never, ever wished such a thing and how could I think she would?
Before I had kids, my failures were my own. Yes, it’s true that I was failing because it was all my parents’ fault, but since I’d been out of their house since I was seventeen, that excuse had gotten old.
No, it’s true, before I had children I failed, but I only failed myself.
Now I fail two precious, potential-filled human beings every single day.
I fail to remember what I learned about parenting from Youtube, Facebook, Upworthy, and even TED. Or maybe I remember it, but my very real children are somehow much more complex than the children in those uplifting stories.
Remember the first time you read that you should offer your toddler two choices, one of which was clearly inferior? First time you read that, you thought, Wow, that’s brilliant! And maybe you even put it into practice and it worked!
Once or twice.
Then one day you said to your child, “We are supposed to meet Danny in the park. Do you want to put your shoes on now so we can go to the park, or do you want to sit here with me being bored?”
And your child looked at you with those innocent eyes and said, “I’m not bored, Mommy. It’s just I don’t want to wear my shoes. So it’s OK if we just sit here.”
And he did.
Or perhaps your child said, “I don’t want either of those things. I want to throw a big, fat tantrum and ruin your chances of going to the park so you can sit and talk to the three other people on the planet who don’t think you’re going insane (aka other moms you know).”
In any case, the two questions thing, which you had been promised was fool-proof, had lasted all of two days in your house.
How about 1-2-3? Or was it 3-2-1? It’s hard to remember. You saw a video in which a parenting expert promised you that counting would bring your children into compliance. So you tried it!
And it worked!
“Git yer darn shoes on! 1—2—3!”
That kid was pulling on those shoes like you were holding a flaming torch to her bottom.
Next time you try counting? Doesn’t work. Your kid misses park day and forgets about it as soon as she realizes she can pull out the black shiki cushion, set it up as a fort, and launch spitballs at her brother.
You miss park day and miss the only opportunity you had that week to talk to other people who understand that in our world, counting is irrelevant (aka other moms).
On days like today, all parenting advice is irrelevant.
Except for this advice:
We’re doing the hardest job in the world. And until your kids are grown up and have kids of their own, it’s thankless, too. (Unless you are successful at getting your children to be polite with you, another thing I have largely failed at.)
So be aware that some days will be like this. You’ll fail at everything. You’ll end up in your office, typing madly into your blog software, hoping someone will hear your silent scream in the dark.
Why did I do this? Why didn’t I become one of the Childless by Choice? What can I do to rekindle my faith in myself as a parent?
And the only advice I can give is the advice I’m giving myself right now:
This, like all things in parenting, will pass. Your children will thrive (probably), and they will become who they will become, most definitely.
Perhaps with your help, perhaps in spite of your help, they will become functional adults.
One day, your child-in-law will sit at your kitchen table with your grandchild playing at his or her feet, and ask entreatingly, “How did you do it? You were such a great mom!”
And you’ll remember this day, and you’ll remember this advice, you’ll sigh, and you’ll say, “Well, there were days that I felt like I failed.”
But you kept going.
And you did.