The mom pulls the clothes out of the washer and begins to load them into the dryer. Her son toddles nearby, holding a favorite blanket. As he reaches the laundry closet the lovey catches on his foot, and within inches of his mom, he crashes face first into the open dryer door.
You want the truth about parenting fails? I think you can handle it.
Usually by the time you become a parent, you present a pretty decent version of yourself to the world. You may be fairly successful. You may feel relatively smart. And then you have kids.
Suddenly your deficiencies come into full glaring view. Parents must constantly negotiate their limitations and inexperience with their responsibilities. Child rearing involves a series of judgment calls. On good days you hit the bulls-eye. Other days you completely miss the mark.
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When my son was in kindergarten, a friend had a creepy troll doll that hooked onto his backpack. He explained that this was a favorite toy because it moved around his house on its own as if by magic. My son was transfixed.
His buddy enthusiastically offered to let him take the enchanted doll home for the day. Once he got it inside, my son explained the deal to his toddler brother and they parked it on the stairs before running outside to play.
Cue Mommy. What to do? Move the little monster and further the game? Or stay out of it and let it remain where it was originally placed?
Of course I moved it. I discreetly moved it at least ten times, each one met with squeals and excited chatter and breathless questions from my boys, all deflected by me with a wide-eyed, innocent confusion. The boys were occupied and happy all afternoon. I paid bills, unloaded the dishwasher, made dinner, and folded a load of laundry thanks to Amazing Troll Doll fun. What a creative and fun mom I was!
That night my husband and I put the boys to bed and then ate dinner. We watched several shows on TV and finally prepared to turn in for the night. We tiptoed upstairs to kiss the boys. When I entered my son’s room I saw that the covers were pulled over his head. Then I noticed they were drenched with sweat and that he was shaking.
As I darted over to pull down the blankets, I was met with a wild-eyed, spooked little boy. “Where is he, where is he?” he asked in a panicked voice. “Where is the troll?”
Immediately I felt a tug in my chest as I took in his terrified face. Oh, no. I did this.
I gave it all up right then and there. I had moved the doll. I had pretended it was real; that was the game. I was so, so sorry.
My son rested his head back on his pillow, exhausted with the effort of his hyper-diligence. His eyelids drooped as he leaned against me. Somehow I was still seen as a comfort even after inflicting troll trauma. “I was so scared but I couldn’t tell you. Because I thought if I got out of bed the troll would get me.”
I felt his pain when making subsequent parenting calls – insecure that with each decision my troll judgment would get me. Should he watch that show? Swim in the ocean with the sharks? Play tackle football? Why should I be trusted making any of these calls after troll-gate?
Of course, my son survived to sleep soundly another night. So now that story joins many others like it: a cringe-worthy tale whose most notable legacy is laughter. We may not get it right every time, but the truth is, our parenting fails foster resiliency – a desirable tool for our kids as they face the inevitable ups and downs of life.
Want to get a better handle on surviving parenting fails? Consider Tracy Curtis’ app idea to create perfect children, commiserate with Frankie Heck’s questionable parenting from The Middle, and marvel at the reality that Hope Floats on for moms even after the most challenging days.