Parenting isn't for the faint of heart. In fact, it's barely for the strong at heart. It tests you in ways you never imagined while simultaneously reminding you of all the ways you're "failing" (or could potentially fail). If you've yet to make a parenting mistake, take it from me — it's the freakin' worst. In fact, there are actual emotional stages of making your worst parenting mistake ever and I've gone though every single one after each traumatic incident.
When my daughter was nearly three, she hopped onto my bed (as she often did) to sit with me. I remember not being fully aware when she asked to get down, and in a matter of seconds — instead of my hands gently setting her to the floor — she slipped through my fingertips and hit her head on the dresser's sharp corner. Much like a slow-motion clip, it's a series of events I've played in my mind over the years. I had the power to prevent it, and I didn't. As we sat in the emergency room I thought about everything that had happened and how, even after I betrayed her, she still loved me. This is a sobering realization.
It's not an easy thing to realize (and accept) that I contributed to my child's pain but, over time and as new accidents have happened and are likely to happen again, the emotional stages have gotten easier to endure (albeit not less traumatizing). In fact, I think I've suffered far worse from dumb mistakes made with my second born, but I digress.
The truth of the matter is, if you're a parent, mistakes are inevitable. The best takeaway is what you learn from each one. With this in mind, here are the emotional stages of making your worst parenting mistake ever. Remember: you're not the first parent, or the last, to mess up in spectacular fashion. Trust me.
You Tell Yourself "This Isn't Happening"
Even if you're right there as it happens, it sometimes takes an extra moment or two to connect the dots. In my daughter's case, I saw her falling, but didn't realize it was due to my loose grip — not until after she'd hit her head. From that moment forward, I decided I'd hold everything with a clenched fist, just in case.
You can never be too safe, right?
You Ask Yourself "How Did This Happen?"
No, seriously. I know I was on the bed, and she was on the bed. Then, somehow she was on the floor, crying. It's an out-of-body experience as you're still processing the way things went down. You almost become a detective in search of concrete answers to questions like, "Who put the bed this close to the dresser?" and, "How did she get onto the bed in the first place?"
The answer to both, of course, is me. I did those things. You might come to a different conclusion.
You Wonder "Who Let This Happen?" Out Loud
Surely this wasn't my fault! Where is her other parent? I'm sure I said I'd return to the living room soon so why did someone send her in to hop on my bed? Tell me who!
If you're wondering the same thing and can't seem to pinpoint whose fault this particular mistake was or is, let that part go. In the end, it really and truly doesn't matter. It just matters your child is OK and safe, so tend to that first.
You Worry Your Child Will Never Trust You Again
Now that you think of it, maybe it was kind of your fault. If I retrace my steps on that fateful day, I may have been preoccupied just a little bit. Maybe I had my phone in hand or a favorite show was on television. I don't remember all the details but hope it doesn't scar her for the rest of her life and, instead, she continues to trust me.
Honestly, what if I have lost her trust? Have I traumatized her forever? What if she hates dressers the rest of her life? At this stage, there's no concern too small because without trust, what do you have?
You Feel Incredibly Guilty
Now that you've accepted you played a role in whatever parenting fail you were a part of, the guilt and shame set in. Hard.
In my case, I wanted to shower my daughter with all the love and hugs (and toys) possible. I wanted her to know she could trust me and that it was an accident. While she actually wasn't that phased by the event later on, her little face in the emergency room is all I really remember about that day. It further reminded me to be more mindful when she wants my attention and that's a lesson I think I needed at the time.
You Feel Helpless
Now that you've moved past denial, you'll find yourself in this weird, helpless role. As you replay the events in your mind, knowing there's nothing you can do to change the outcome now, you may sink further into the overwhelming feeling you should have prevented this mistake from happening. That's your job as the parent.
Like me, those moments thereafter only solidified how completely helpless I truly am. Sure, I can do the usual, expected things and hope for the best, but in the end things will happen beyond my control. So basically, all I can do now is wallow in regret, probably forever.
You Realize You're Not Perfect And Mistakes Happen
And here we are: acceptance. This is, by far, the hardest stage of making a parental mistake. It means I can do everything in my power to make the best choices for my children and, still, I will fail. I'm an imperfect being, hoping to raise good, decent children who don't hate me or remind me of a time I let my oldest fall into the dresser.
If you weren't aware already, parenting isn't easy and sometimes thing will happen that might wreck you emotionally. In going through the above stages, just know that you're doing your best and, at some point, all this will be a distant memory. Mostly because you're bound to make more mistakes to overshadow this one blip. Hang in there, dear reader. You're doing great.