If you are a parent, you may have just cringed at that title. I don’t know a parent on the planet who hasn’t felt guilty at one point or another for letting their kid down in some way. Facing that fact is about the hardest information to digest. We love our kids so much. We want amazing things for them. We work hard so that they have what they need. We help with homework, we try to feed them healthy foods, we try to get them to bed a decent time so they have proper rest, we pack their lunches, we get them to all their appointments, we make sure they well checks visits are up to date, we sit on the sidelines and cheer them on at every practice and game, we sit through band concerts that, if we are being honest, aren’t great. We are team parents and coaches, we are room parents for class parties, we might participate on the PTA or sports league boards, we make sure their holidays are magical. We wash, dry, fold their laundry, we step on legos and then buy them more legos because it’s their jam. And after all of that, we will find a way to let them down.
I have a core memory that will bring tears to my eyes today, and it’s from 2008. My oldest was in kindergarten, and my twins were three years old. My twins were, um, very spirited. It was time for Muffins with Moms in my kindergarteners class, and I had no one to watch the twins. I couldn’t fathom taking them with me; I love them with all my heart, but they were a handful. So, I didn’t go. In my mind I thought, “I won’t be the only mom who can’t go; there are so many working moms that I bet can’t just take off work in the middle of the morning.” I was wrong. My five year old came home that day and said “Where were you? All the moms were there except you and I sat with my teacher instead.” CRUSHING BLOW. He said WHERE WERE YOU. The overwhelming guilt of letting my tiny human down was severe. I’m crying now just writing about it.
So. It turns out, we parents are human beings. It turns out we aren’t perfect. It turns out we will make mistakes over and over and over. That wasn’t the last time I let one of my kids down, and I’m sure there are still more instances to come. So what do we do with those emotions? How do we release that guilt? How do we make sure we handle our oopsies the right way with our kids?
I’m a big believer in apologizing to my boys. I mess up. I haven’t always, but I’m learning to own it. We can’t expect our kids to apologize when they wrong someone if we don’t model that for them. It’s hard to admit to our kids when we make mistakes, and I would encourage some self-exploration around that. Why is it hard to say “I’m sorry”? I have been a parent for 21 years and I’m still asking myself this question.
Making mistakes is normal, and so is our guilt. We think about the impact our choices have on our kids constantly. Am I allowing too much screen time? Am I feeding them the right foods? Do we go outside enough? Am I sending them to the right school? Am I socializing them enough? Should I be stopping that bully or letting them figure this out for themselves? Am I being selfish by working and wanting a career? Should I send them to daycare to include peer socialization instead of staying home with them? Am I being selfish by going out with my girlfriends once a month, even if it means I miss a ballgame? So. Many. Questions.
We can get lost in the microunits of parenting so easily. I would encourage all of us to step back and look at the big picture. Ask yourself these questions: Do I make choices with their best interest in mind? Does my kid know how much I love him/her, and do I express that often? Are they safe, encouraged, supported, and nourished both physically and emotionally? Then you are doing this thing right.
Avoid comparing your parenting choices to others. You aren’t parenting their kids, you are parenting yours. No two children are exactly alike, and that means they will need different things. I have three kids and I parent all three of them differently. Your neighbor might judge you for how you parent, and that’s fine. Let it roll. In the same breath, give other parents some grace too; we know not what others go through.
You might give the Googles a break too. Looking up parenting questions can take you down a rabbit hole of questioning everything. Balance the information you take in with your gut instinct. Bounce stuff off your spouse or co-parent, and come to the best agreement you can on the hard stuff. Talk with your support system, family or friends, about guilt you may have. Chances are, you have that in common. Support each other without judgement and provide understanding; that’s what your tribe is for.
Above all, keep things in perspective. Like I mentioned earlier, think big picture. I didn’t go to Muffins for Moms, and he didn’t turn out to be a serial killer. Forgive yourself for the things you wish you had done differently, and make changes to your future decisions based on those experiences. We are on the planet to grow, learn, and be better. That all applies to this parenting gig too. We all show up to the world of parenting with our own stuff, and we do the best we can. Perfection is a false concept. Mess up, apologize, and move on. You are what your child needs; you are the most important ingredient. You are their favorite person on the planet, even over Taylor Swift or Doc McStuffins. Simply put, you are amazing.