Why I’m Happy to Make Parenting Mistakes

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It’s 7:30am and I’ve already nearly bitten my nine-year-old’s head off over breakfast.

He wanted a bagel, just not the kind with sesame seeds. I made the kind with sesame seeds because I have three kids and I sometimes forget which one hates what food that particular week – especially before I’ve had a full cup of coffee.

When he reminded me he doesn’t like that kind of bagel, I immediately snapped at him. “Well, if you don’t like it, make your own breakfast!” And then I skulked back into the kitchen to fume and sip my coffee for a few minutes before coming back to apologize. (With a new bagel.)

This is what imperfect parenting looks likeor, as I like to call it, simply “parenting.” Real, honest parenting.

A long time ago, I not only made peace with the idea that I will never be perfect at raising my children, but I even began to celebrate it a little.

(“What? Did she just say ‘celebrate’?”)

Yes. Yes, I did. And here’s why.

I’m not actually celebrating the times I yell at my children, forget a promise I made to them, or swear under my breath just loud enough that they hear me. I’m never proud of those moments.

But I am happy my children get to see me as a whole human being, and not an always-pleasant automaton I try to pass off as “mother.”

Parents of the 21st century, we have the best of intentions. We really do. We want our children to be healthy and whole. We want them to have a wonderful childhood. We want them to look back on their younger years with nothing but blue skies and fond memories.

We want to be their heroes, their safe place to fall. We want to be remembered as the parents who created magical moments and kept it all together so they could grow into thriving, functional adults.

We want this because we love our kids in that deep, rich, unconditional way. What wouldn’t you do for someone you love that much?

And so we try to fill each day with smiles and hugs and confidence boosting statements. We practice patience and kindness and attentive listening so that our children feel supported.

But sometimes we go a little… overboard. We don’t let them see the other side of us, the part that will lose it over a bagel. And if we do, we beat ourselves up in a big way.

But we shouldn’t. That’s real parenting, and there’s no getting around it. We can’t be perfect parents because we’re not perfect beings. We’re human, and humans have a wide array of emotions that can impact our decision-making skills.

Sure, on a good day, I would have said something nice like, “I’m sorry, buddy. I forgot you don’t like sesame seeds.” or, “Maybe you could try this kind of bagel again and see if your tastes have changed. What do you think?”

But I was tired and moody and hormonal, so I snapped instead.

I have good days and bad days, just like everyone else. Thus, my children have seen me with my vibrant supermom cape waving proudly behind me on the good days, and they’ve also seen me mending my stained and tattered cape on the bad days.

I’ve lovingly baked the very best birthday cupcakes, and I’ve also run to the store in a panic the morning of a birthday party, feeling woefully inadequate.

They’ve seen me model strength and courage, but have also witnessed me curled up on the couch in tears, eating pizza and watching Netflix.

And while I am undoubtedly their biggest supporter, I am also the one to get grumpy over someone’s dislike of sesame seeds.

I used to chastise myself over these moments, but I now see them as an important life lesson for my children.

The lessons go a little something like this: Kids, I am your mother, not a robot. And just like you, I have feelings and I show them.

You’re going to see all sides of me. You’ll see me when I’m up and when I’m down. You’ll watch me admit when I’m wrong and learn from my mistakes.

And most importantly, you’ll see me show up the next day to try again, because that’s what we do. We forgive ourselves and we keep going.

Can I still be a great parent and occasionally show my bad side to those I love? You bet I can. Great parenting isn’t perfect parenting. It’s human emotion, pulled and pushed by love and frustration, fear and hope. It’s a wild storm of messy and beautiful.

And you know what? I’m okay with showing my kids messy and beautiful. How about you?

Image credit: “I’m Sorry” by Leyram Odacrem, via Flickr


6 thoughts on “Why I’m Happy to Make Parenting Mistakes”

  1. I am not sure why my semi-grown children are so utter wonderful, balanced, happy, responsible, etc. etc., but I am pretty sure that my willingness to apologize to them was a big part of it.

  2. I loved your article. I sometimes feel frustrated with my reactions to my two small girls, but I also got to think your way. I always explain things and apologize for overreacting.

  3. So wonderful to read this. Yes, we are just humans and we are doing our children a huge disservice to pretend otherwise. Modeling for them that we make mistakes gives them permission to make mistakes. Being imperfect give them permission to be imperfect. One way I take this a step further is, when having a (rare) disagreement with my husband, try and talk about it in a place where they can see it (like during dinner or when we’re all in the car together). So, not explicitly including them in the conversation, but doing it near them so that they can witness it. I want them to see what it’s like to compromise, work through a misunderstanding, etc. I want them to witness and process that strong relationships include having to figure things out sometimes. In the same way that parenting isn’t always perfect and all smiles, so too with friendships and spousal relationships. What a blessing that we can model for our kids out to apologize, make amends, screw up and be okay, compromise, be wrong, and that that is all normal!

  4. Loved reading this. It sums up parenting perfectly – especially how inconsistent we can be: yesterday I would have laughed and mopped up the milk, and today its the end of the world!. I think we’re all the same, and like you ladies, I always apologise to my kids for losing it. Just wanted to say though, my childhood was a long way from perfect, but even so, I have wonderful sunny days, blue skies memories of my childhood in general. So stop stressing about how your kids are going to look back on their childhoods, because I’m here to say they will have wonderful memories no matter how often you have a meltdown. It’s good to be human, and we are all muddling through this parenting thing together.

  5. Hi Manda. Your article made me reflect on my role as a mother. I’m not sure if my behavior with my daughter is correct. Well, they have 5 years and is very stubborn. She learned bad habits at school. I am against hit her, but talk only did not bring good results. Eventually, I had to give some slaps her because the situation has reached dangerous limits. However, my daughter always reverses things and makes me feel guilty. I hope that one day she recognizes that the punishments are a necessary evil. Best regards – Anna.

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