Some days are better than others. Some days everything just seems to fall into place. The kids wake up and eat breakfast without melting down into a puddle of bile and tears, you remember to bring everything with you to the babysitter, dinner goes off without a hitch, and you tuck your perfect little angel in at night without having to fetch “just one more” drink of water. Those are the days when you feel like you’ve really gotten the hang of this parenting thing.
Then tomorrow rolls around and you can actually feel the last few gossamer threads of your sanity snapping loose, not because of anything your kids do but because you fail at parenting. But rest assured you’re not the only one. We’ve all failed. And one of the best ways I’ve found to cope with our epic failures is to lay them all out in the open for the world to see. I’ll go first.
- Bubby’s third birthday This was supposed to be a special day, and it really started that way. Cupcakes for breakfast, new Avengers toys, and a new Spider-Man bike. Then we took a trip to the park to try out said bike. The combination of excitement about the birthday, lack of a nap and frustration about not knowing how to work the pedals yet made Bubby pretty crabby. That sent him into one of his tantrums, which pushed me over the edge as well. When it came time to leave and he was screaming as I tried to strap him in his carseat, I kinda snapped. Mean Daddy screamed at Bubby. In public. Loudly enough to silence an entire park. No lasting harm was done, and I ended up embarrassed beyond belief, but I learned two things that day. First, to be more aware of my emotions and to recognize when I get close to my tipping point. Second, maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge people for what I see as obvious parenting blunders. That person might be a terrific parent who was caught at an inopportune moment.
- Falling down is funny You see it happening. Your little one has put herself in a precarious situation and you know it’s just a matter of time before something gives. She reaches for a nearby toy and leans over just a little too far. Down she goes. And for some reason—maybe it’s subconscious payback for months of sleepless nights—your first reaction is not to see if she’s OK but to laugh. By this point she’s probably wailing, so you finally remember you’re a parent and check for injuries. But once you figure out she’s OK, you laugh some more.
- Boo and the wipes In a house of four with two kids, it can be tough to keep track of everything going on. Wife and I were in the living room one evening playing with Bubby when we realized we hadn’t seen Boo for a few minutes. And it was way too quiet. By the time we peeked into his room and found him, he had pulled out about a half a pack of baby wipes. He was having a great time, but all I saw was money flying into the trash can. This wouldn’t be such a fail if: 1) I didn’t have two kids and know better than to leave the wipes where he could get them and 2) I hadn’t just caught him doing the same thing ten minutes earlier.
- Buckle up One Saturday afternoon before Boo was born, Wife and I were out doing our regular grocery shopping. Filling up on a couple weeks’ worth of necessities is hectic enough without a one-year-old in tow, so adding Bubby to the mix made things that much crazier. We had to make a couple other quick stops after picking up the food, so we hurried through the market, loaded the bags into the car and threw Bubby in the car seat. And guess whose responsibility it was to buckle him in. Yep, fail. Luckily we hadn’t even made it out of the parking lot when Wife notice him hunched forward against the back seat, but I still haven’t lived that one down.
- Going down? One of the things everyone hears before they have kids is that you can’t turn your back on them for a second. I learned that the hard way when Bubby started crawling. We usually had the living room sectioned off so he couldn’t scoot off anyplace where he might get hurt. For whatever reason I set him on the floor outside the safe zone while I walked into the bedroom—just for a second—to grab something. By the time I came back he wasn’t where I had left him. And he wasn’t anywhere in sight. I quickly scanned the obvious places before checking the one spot I should have looked immediately: the landing at the top of the stairs. He was fine. I got to him before he found the stairs themselves, but I still get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach sometimes thinking about what might have happened if I’d been a few seconds later. And we always keep the gates in place now. Always.
- Mommy and Daddy time. OK, we’ve all been in this spot. Maybe it’s been a few days or a week since Mommy and Daddy have been able to, you know, do what mommies and daddies like to do sometimes. That thing that got us into this parenting mess in the first place. The nap schedule didn’t fall the way you had hoped or you have company coming over in an hour and need to make it quick or you just feel like now is the right time. So you put your little pumpkin in his crib with a couple toys and hurry off to do what needs to be done. If he’s too old for the crib, maybe you just tell him “Mommy and Daddy need to talk in private for a few minutes.” In all likelihood the kids will keep themselves busy and not even miss you. Still you kinda feel like a bad parent when they’re in their room alone and you’re in your room. Not alone.
- Dirty diaper hot potato How long can you let your child sit in his own filth before it’s called a fail on your part? That limit is frequently tested by moms and dads alike. Maybe both parents are busy with other things. Laundry, dishes, vacuuming, video games, sleeping, whatever. Maybe you get within sniffing distance of your little guy and realize he may just need a clean diaper. And, depending upon what you’re doing, maybe you just pretend like you didn’t smell it for a few minutes. Or maybe you tell him to go give his mommy a hug. Fail. Or win, depending on how you look at it.
OK, so the only real way to fail at parenting is to just stop trying. Your kids may not always behave the way you want, they may grow up with a few of the flaws you worked so hard to erase, but that just means you’re human and so are they. I’ve yet to meet the perfect parent. Actually, scratch that. The perfect parent is the parent who gives your kids the things they need, which means we’re all the perfect parents to our own kids. Epic win!