You’re Going to Screw Up Your Kids (and that’s OK)

April 18, 2018

A dear friend of mine wrote a powerful post on facebook about motherhood the other day and it inspired me. The gist of it was this:

As the mother of a daughter, she’d hoped to heal her own mother/daughter wound and create a less complicated relationship with her daughter than the one she has with her mother.
Then she realized that motherhood in of itself is complex and difficult, so any relationship she has with her child would be equally so and that’s actually ok.

That got me thinking about motherhood and the big ideas I had about motherhood before I become a parent.

I thought I was going to be the most awesome mom on the block.

I was going to go on daily hikes with my kids and share my love of nature with them.

I was going to spend lots of time with them everyday, playing games and creating cool crafts that we’d frame and hang all over the house.

I was going to enforce a zero screentime policy and my kids were going to magically entertain themselves with wooden toys, musical instruments, art supplies, and playdo without making a catastrophic mess and happily allowing me to get work done for several hours at a time without interruption.

I was not going to yell at my kids. Ever.

I was not going to feed my kids food I didn’t want to eat myself.

I was not going to make the same mistakes my mother did when I was growing up.

And most of all, I was going to protect my kids from me.

As you can probably imagine, I’m zero for eight on my list.

Just as my friend acknowledged, motherhood is complicated and difficult. It’s also constantly evolving.

At this point, I have come to terms with some of the items on my “Awesome Mom” list.

My daughter is watching TV while I write this, having exhausted her attention span for her toys. And her brother is currently not asleep in his crib even though it’s naptime. He’s not crying. Yet. He’ll stay there until he is actually crying. He needs some quiet time, even if he’s not napping. And mommy needs a break from trying to nurse him/rock him/wear him in a dark, quiet room to sleep.

My kids eat mostly foods I don’t want to eat, although they frequently fight over the last piece of sautéed kale.

We haven’t been outside or done crafts today.

The two where I still get stuck are the most complex ones.

One of the things I think most moms are worried about heading into motherhood is screwing up their kids. We’re terrified of repeating the same “mistakes” our own parents made. We’re terrified our kids will end up with our worst habits. In the extremes, we believe that we have to completely divorce ourselves from the relationship we had with our parents when we were growing up in order to be the best parent possible.

Here’s the good news:

No matter what you do, you are going to screw up your kids.

Ok, maybe that sounds scary.

Here’s another way to look at it:

No matter what you do, your actions will impact your children.

It’s unavoidable.

And that’s ok.

Sometimes the actions you take will positively impact your children.

Sometimes the actions you choose will less positively impact your children.

You will make mistakes.

You will do things you wish you could erase from history.

You will make choices or say things you wish you could take back.

You can’t.

You can learn from your own mistakes and try to do a better job next time around.

You can be honest with your kids when you feel you’ve screwed up.

You can teach your child the value of apologizing. And actually meaning it.

You can someday apologize to your grow up or older children without the attached “but I was doing the best I could.” Learned that one from Terri Cole. We are all doing the best we can. Everyone knows it. Apologize without modifiers and without exception.

You also can’t protect your kids from yourself.

My daughter is going to end up with some of my tendencies and some of her fathers and some of her own. My son will be the same way.

Our kids are a product of the nature as much as their nurture.

Yes, I want to protect my kids from some of my less charming qualities and more damaging behaviors.

That might not be super realistic.

So here’s what I think might be more helpful.

Instead of trying to fix my relationship with my daughter or trying to fix the relationship I had with my mom when I was a kid, I need to fix the relationship I have with myself.

Maybe instead of trying to protect my kids from the mistakes I am going to make, I actually need to build a better relationship with myself and attend to my own needs, so that the wounds I work on healing are my own.

And the relationship I work on strengthening is the one with myself.

If I am working on taking better care of myself, the other relationships in my life should start to realign and get stronger and more clear.

In theory.

I like theories and I like testing them even more.

I’m also not saying you should ignore the relationship you have with your kids or write off the relationship you had or have with you own mom.

I’m saying start small.

Focus on you. Rebuild that relationship. Get more clear on what you need and want. As much as you can, give yourself what you need. Treat yourself better.

When you start treating yourself with more care and respect, those actions will spill over to your kids.

And will likely make you want to check in with your own parents, if you’re able.

Some days, motherhood levels me.

Today was one of those days.

It wasn’t a particularly bad day. Lots of good stuff happened. But Archer wouldn’t nap and Milly was being 5. I was exhausted. I tried employing my mantra, but it didn’t work. Instead, I started making some bad choices. Milly became even more defiant. Archer, exhausted, fell and hit his head hard two separate times.

I couldn’t get anything done.

Archer wouldn’t stop crying. All I wanted to do was scream.

I took a breath and sat on the floor, holding Archer. I asked Milly for hug. And then took a bunch of close-up selfies of us in a puddle on the kitchen floor laughing.

And I thought of my own mom.

I thought of how she probably had days like this, too.

Days of immense frustration and exhaustion.

Days when she wanted to run away and not look back.

Days when she felt helpless and wished she could have a do over.

I wondered how she handled those days.

Maybe she ended up on the floor hugging me and my brother, too.

I also thought of all of the ways she didn’t screw me up. All of the amazing things she taught me.
It’s so easy to point out the ways we think our parents have failed us, but how about how they’ve prepared us?

My mom was one of the first people who taught me about the value of exercise and the necessity of self-care.

My dad was the first person who introduced me to meditation.

My mom helped nurture my creativity.

My dad taught me the value of exploring and understanding the world.

Both of my parents read to me every night, something I do with my children.

I’m less interested in trying to figure out how I can avoid being like my parents and how I can actually use what they taught me to become a better parent.

I’m also tired of trying to blame them for everything that is wrong with me.

I am a product of my own experiences.

My parents aren’t perfect.

Neither am I.

I don’t remember every single time my mom yelled at me.

I don’t remember all of the little ways she “screwed me up.”

I remember her tirelessly driving me everywhere I needed to go and staying up late with me when I had a deadline, typing out my feature stories for the school newspaper while I dictated to her.

I hope get to screw up my own kids like that, too.


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