If I’ve learned anything from being a parent, it’s humility. Just when I might start getting cocky that things are going well and I can totally handle it all and I'm above reproach, I’ll experience an epic parenting fail. They're common and unavoidable and that's just the way the world of parenting works. Messing up is part of the deal, but parenting mistakes also aren't as bad as you think. So, honestly, we should cut ourselves some slack and let go of the idea that we should never make a single mistake when it comes to raising our children.
What I've learned as a totally fallible human being and mother, is the key to surviving any parenting mishap is handling the aftermath. It's just too damn exhausting to spend time beating myself up after every little screw-up I will (inevitably) make. Most of my missteps my kids don’t even remember, like when I’d repeatedly put their diapers on backwards when changing them in the middle of the night.
The surest way to parenting burn-out, I've found, was to constantly try to be perfect. A saner approach is to look at the big picture and be kind to yourself when you fail. How bad was it when I accidentally caught some of my infant’s tender skin in the nail clippers? At the time, of course, it was awful and I didn't think I'd ever get over hearing her scream and knowing I caused her such pain. But two minutes later, it was like it never happened.
So, with that in mind, here are some more parenting mistakes I believe aren’t as bad as we moms like to think. Sure, they might seem catastrophic at the moment, but trust me, things are never as bad as they seem.
There is no way you can keep up with a grabby toddler every time he or she chooses to graze from the deep well that is the random food in the carpet. As long as objects don’t propose a choking hazard, the risk is small if a toddler enjoys eating off the floor in your own home. Save that energy for swatting stuff out of their hands at the zoo or keeping them away from sharp objects.
My daughter would only nap in the stroller, which meant we’d be wheeling her around the apartment on rainy days to get her to sleep. And, eight years later, she’ll drift off in the car if the ride is longer than 20 minutes. While I was so worried that she wouldn't be able to sleep in an actual crib or bed, she is able to fall asleep very easily when she’s not on wheels. For as annoying as it was to have to push her around to get her to nap, it didn’t lead to long-term sleep problems. So don’t sweat it if your current nap routine resembles a Cirque du Soleil act. It will eventually evolve to a more sustainable practice.
I try not to yell, but (full disclosure) it’s hard not to when a car cuts me off only to slow down so I miss the light. Sometime the word “jerk” escapes my mouth. Sometimes, honestly, a word even worse than jerk will squeeze its way out into the world, too. These are not my proudest moments, but they happen. As a mom, I talk a good game about mindful parenting and I work really, really hard not to lose my cool with my kids. But, on the flip side, am I really hurting anyone by grumbling at another driver who can’t even hear me? It’s not like I curse (although, honestly, if you do that's probably not going to cause long term "damage" either).
My third grader is getting a great education, don't get me wrong. We’re very happy with her school, however, we're less happy about what she picks up on the school bus and on the bathroom stall walls and (probably) on the playground. She regularly reports back on the inappropriate language she overhears from the older kids, and her little brother hangs on her every "bad" word. I'm here to tell you, though, that I don’t make a big f*cking deal about it. I explain that people generally don’t like hearing those words and they are not to use them outside our home. I’ve found that takes some of the appeal away from my kids’ use of them. If it’s not forbidden, it’s less fun, right?
At five and eight, my kids are old enough to understand that cold weather means bundling up. So, if they refuse to zip up their coats or put on a hat and it’s 30 degrees at the bus stop, it’s their fault they’re freezing. Yes, people shoot me dirty looks for this kind of “neglect,” and if my children were toddlers, I wouldn’t allow it (although, honestly, it would still probably happen when we're rushing to get out the door and to some extremely important appointment). But it’s better for everyone if I say “oh well” in response to their rebellion against fleece. It frees me up to focus on more dire parenting mistakes, like…
Yep, I did this thing. Luckily, they survived without gastrointestinal distress and were even given some chips by sympathetic classmates. No, they did not think that I am some neglectful parent that doesn't love them or care about their health, and no, they didn't hang that mistake over my head. Honestly, the more instances my kids get to realize that mom is human too, the better.
In a dual-caregiver household, the kids learn fast how to play one parent against the other. I get a lot of, “But Dad said I could do this one thing so it's totally fine that I'm doing it right now!“ So, if I don’t fact-check with my husband, I can end up allowing the kids to do something their dad never actually agreed to do and something I probably wouldn't have allowed them to do either. This has led to later bedtimes, more screen time, additional cookies, and borrowing (and then losing) my necklaces. It’s not end-of-the-world stuff, to be sure, but it sure is frustrating when my kids pull a fast one on me.
Kids should be wiping themselves sufficiently by the time they are five, apparently and according to the internet and we all know that the internet is "always right". But, for Type A parents, we like to know the job is getting done at our level of competence, so, (for me) that meant continuing to check on my school-aged kids in the bathroom. Look, I’m not proud that I had a first grader calling me in after she went poop, but it saved me a lot of issues when it came to laundry.
This is less of a mistake and more of a social infraction, but I value my sanity. I have invited the entire class to a birthday party, paying dearly for it when my child retreated from the scene, overwhelmed by the mass hysteria that was cake time. Maybe your kid’s class is really tiny, and maybe your kid is truly BFFs with every single child in the class. In that case, go for it. But nothing made me happier this past year than when my daughter chose the option to invite one friend to go to a show with her for her birthday, as opposed to having a group party.
It happens, especially if you have multiple children. Something is going to be lost or forgotten. Your child will hold nothing back when calling you a horrible parent. You’ll feel like a failure. Then the school will remind you via phone or email or letter home or publicly on the class website (thanks guys), and you will finally remember to send your kid to school with the that very important thing and life will be sort of normal for a minute.
I thought the auto re-order option was terrific, until things I no longer used started piling up at my door (swim diapers in January, for instance, when my youngest had been toilet-trained for two years already). So, I cancelled that feature and soon found myself out of everything all the time. So, yes, my children have washed their hair with hand soap and I’ve used dish detergent to clean their clothes. The point is, the dirt is mostly gone and I have a good story to tell at their weddings.
One of my 8-year-old’s favorite movies is 1959's “Some Like it Hot.” We’ve shown our 5-year-old son PG-13 rated superhero movies. Some things go right over their heads (mostly the sexual references) and some things warrant explaining. But we are there, watching with our kids, and we expect them to ask questions. We want to help them navigate the material. “Finding Nemo” may be an all-ages film but it deals with some rough, upsetting themes that some young kids find hard to handle. By the same token, the uber-violence of some of these action films is so off-the-charts, my little guy brushes it off as cartoon-like. The point is, we know our kids and what they will be able to process.
While there are ratings and nutrition labels and safety warnings on every consumer good on the planet, I feel it’s my role, as a parent, to be the ultimate gatekeeper for my children. I do know what’s best for them because I am modeling them in my image: a foul-mouthed, forgetful, chronic butt-wiper with an aversion to zipping up and the tendency to serve overripe strawberries who makes plenty of parenting mistakes and has survived them all.