Today is Day 2 of Failure Week. I don’t write a bunch about my kids here to honor them; it has always felt really important to me and to them, too, and I never had the luxury of blogging when they were super little and didn’t somehow know what I was saying yet. However, over time, there have been a few–MOMFB–Making Other Mommies Feel Better, Goodly Parenting, Never Say Never, The Kids are Alright, Faith Shifts: What About the Kids? (more if you look at the category “mommydom”).
I personally think parenting is one of the hardest, most humbling, most humiliating, most stressful thing a person can do. And for those who desperately want kids and can’t have them, those same words seem to apply. The whole parenting thing (or not being one) can be wrought with feelings of failure.
I remember when my five kids were little (they are now 24, 22, 20, and 16), I was obsessed with being the best-possible-parent. I read every book I could get my hands on, I subscribed to Christian Parenting Today and Parenting Magazine and poured over the articles. I went to MOPS (Mother of Preschoolers) and worked my tail off trying to be a Supermom.
It wasn’t just exhausting.
It was also a season filled with so much shame.
Nothing could fill me with rage more quickly than my kids misbehaving in front of other people. The powerlessness of those moments felt so strong. The being-that-vulnerable too exposing. The humiliation too connected to my identity.
I clearly remember the moment I went into my women’s group at church and told the truth out loud for the first time about how I felt as a mom. I shared how inadequate I felt, how angry I had been at my little ones, how I almost wrenched my son’s arm out of his socket in the Target parking lot, how I once broke a wooden spoon spanking his butt, how ashamed I felt about my simmering rage, how I never felt good enough as a mommy.
It felt freeing to finally bring what was in the dark to light, to say it out loud, to release it.
But it also was terrifying.
What would they think of me? Would I lose their friendship, their respect? Would they evaluate me even more closely? Would they tell on me?
I will always remember their reaction–“Oh, Kathy, me, too…I know that feeling so well.” “I feel the exact same way.” “I hate myself sometimes for it, too.” “I often feel like the worst mom ever.” “I also am scared to say it out because of what you might think of me.”
This is the mess we have often created, not just in church but in the wider world, too (The exact same feelings exist in non-faith-based systems, the underlying feelings of inadequacy and shame).
So many parents carry a pervasive feeling of constant failure and no safe places to talk about it.
The first place I go is always the same–I must have done something wrong.
Naughty kids equal not-doing-it-right parents.
When other kids are better, it means ours are worse.
We compare, compare, compare.
In many Christian circles, how are kids behave is also directly connected to our faithfulness.
And oh, how that can mess with our minds and hearts and spiritual peace!
What does it say about us when our kids struggle and suffer, won’t breastfeed, sleep through the night, become addicts, when they lie, when they leave us, when they make huge life-altering mistakes, when they need extra help at school, when they say they hate us, when they’re depressed, when they-don’t-do-pretty-much-whatever-it-is-that-we-really-want-and-hope-for-them-to-do?
The ways our worth and value is tied to parenting is often very scary.
A chunk of years ago I had a realization about parenting that shifted something deep inside of me. I noticed that I accepted paradox in almost everyone else around me except for my kids and myself. I wanted the kids to be perfect just like I wanted myself to be perfect. Even after all these years of working my butt off in the healing department, it is still really hard for me to accept my humanness, my weakness, my struggles. Really, I want all the good and none of the hard. When my kids struggle or rebel or do-all-kinds-of-things-that-make-me-crazy, the first place I go is always he same–I must have done something wrong.
By beginning to embrace paradox in them, the load has lightened a bit. It sounds simple but it was one of the hardest transitions I continue to wrestle with–they are just little wild and beautiful human beings like everyone else.
Trying to find their way.
Figure out who they are.
With all their good and all their bad.
I do know that the harshness I heaped on myself about parenting over the years bore no good fruit. And if I’m really honest, the harshness I feel toward myself is what I often pass on to my kids and others’ around me. We do love our neighbors as ourselves. The more accepting I am of myself–in all my mess and all my glory–the more I can accept my kids, too.
I have no idea where you are at in terms of parenting, but my guess is that if you are one you know what it feels like to fail at it. And if you aren’t one but want to be, you might have some of these same feelings, too.
To feel ashamed.
To have regret.
To wish your story was somehow different.
To take their mistakes on as your own.
My hope for all of us as parents is to re-frame ourselves and our kids as wonderfully flawed human beings doing the best we can with what we have.
To not think of their mistakes and our mistakes as failures but instead to honor we’re just learning, struggling, stumbling, bumbling, failing, trying, practicing, figuring-life-out-together.
I think we need to take the idea of “failed parenting” off the table altogether.
ps: I also have a post up today at Sheloves Magazine for June–You Can’t Go With All the Flows.