Roughly five times a day, I screw up as a parent. However this morning’s antics may have earned me a spot in the Mommy Hall of Shame. At 10:00am, I had just settled down to work and a coffee, when my cell phone cheerily announced: “Chaperone Field Trip.” A pit instantly formed in my stomach. I was supposed to be heading to a demonstration of the New York City Ballet with my daughter's class that very moment.
In a panic, I bolted for the door, sprinting the six blocks to her school. Just as I breathlessly rounded the corner, my daughter’s class was lining up to board the bus. “STELLA!!!! STELLA!!!!” I hollered (not my daughter’s name but you get the allusion). “STOP!!! I’M THE CHAPERONE. I’M THE MOTHER!!! THE MOTHER!!!” Mercifully, my daughter was already on the bus and missed her mother's theatrical display.
Since I do guilt particularly well, I apologized profusely to my daughter. But she could not have care less. Instead, her eyes widened with delight at the prospect of spending school time with me. I had failed myself, not her. As a lovely morning unfolded, I managed to keep my guilt at bay. Self-flagellation would do nothing more than destroy my daughter's day at the ballet.
Oddly enough, one of Jeanne’s most dramatic “failures” revolved around City Ballet too. We were enjoying a pre-Nutracker dinner, when Mom realized the show began at 6pm, not 8pm. Since we arrived in the middle of the first act, we sat in the aisles. I saw it as an adventure. But what I remember most vividly was the fragile tone of my mother’s voice when she discovered her error. It was simultaneously heart-breaking and unnerving.
We make mistakes. Sometimes, they are of the logistical nature. Other times, I am, well, kind of a bitch. Instead of delivering sing-song homilies like Marmee in Little Women, I bark orders to “Put your shoes on!” I beg my daughter to “Just stop whining. No whining," or snap at my son for sneaking off with iPad to play Angry Birds…again.
These things happen. Yet I’ve found that when I eliminate the guilt, and simply admit that “Mommy can get grumpy,” my kids recover much better. They’ve also learned that when you push someone too far, they get annoyed, even angry. This is why I found Issa Waters’ BlogHer post No Excuses: Parenting Is Not Hard particularly unhelpful.
In an effort to argue that the refrain “Parenting Is Hard” cannot justify parents' bad behavior, she writes:
“Sometimes I participate in a discussion about someone in public being mean to their child. By “being mean” I mean spanking, slapping, grabbing, yanking, dragging, yelling, name-calling, belittling, punishing and so forth. And there’s always someone in these discussions ready to declare that “parenting is hard” and we should therefore cut the parent some slack. And I just reject this wholeheartedly. It is not hard to not treat people like shit. Children are small, dependent people, and we should be doubly sure not to treat them like shit.”
For starters, when did “slapping, yanking…and belittling” fall into the same category as “yelling” and “punishing?” By this definition, most parents I know are unfit to raise their children. We all stand accused, and are therefore…guilty. Waters’ argument turns a naïve eye to how dangerous such guilt can be to both parent and child.
Perhaps “Parenting Is Not Hard,” but being human can be excruciating. To me, these two roles are inextricably intertwined. I want my children to understand that I am not perfect. I am just a flawed person –one who forgets things and loses her patience-- but who also loves her children enough to chase after a bus to make things right.