Parenting Fail or Success?

I have a very vivid early parenting memory. It is not one that I am proud of, but one that was pivotal in my faith and my understanding of parenting. Jack was about two weeks old when Charles’s mom flew over to England to meet her first grandchild. She planned to stay for about two weeks, so we arranged a place for her to stay, because our apartment was so small. It was late on a Sunday night, and Charles was getting ready to drive his mom ‘home’ for the night. He kissed both Jack and me and promised he’d be home in twenty minutes.

Well, those twenty minutes were hard for me. Really hard. I remember Jack crying. I remember being tired. I remember picking Jack up to try to comfort him, and I remember him still crying. I remember being frustrated. I remember trying to rock him, sing to him, anything, and he kept crying. In my memory this went on for about ten minutes, but those ten minutes were more than this new mother could take. I remember putting him in his bouncy seat, strapping him in securely, and then I looked him straight in the eyes and said “Shut up!” really firmly at him. (Shut up is not a normal word in my vocabulary – even when I am mad, I would normally just yell, “Stop talking!”)

I walked out of the bedroom, sat on the couch, and started to cry. That’s where Charles found me when he got home a few minutes later. “What’s wrong?” he asked. With tears slowly rolling down my face, I told him, “I yelled shut up at Jack. He didn’t deserve it. I’ve failed him.”

I remember Charles comforting me (and also getting Jack and comforting him). I also remember he told me I would be okay, but he didn’t tell me that I hadn’t failed Jack, and he didn’t tell me that I hadn’t messed up. I had messed up. I had failed Jack, and the truth was, I would continue to fail him the rest of his life. At two weeks old, I had failed my son, and that was good for me to learn. News flash: I was not going to be a perfect parent. This was so good for me to learn 14 days into parenting.

Two take aways from this “glad to learn from it/don’t want to do it again” moment:

  • Trajectory in parenting is key.

I often have to remind myself in parenting, much like my Christian faith, that it is not conquering everything in one day, but that it is small steps forward, coupled with a few steps backwards. That’s usually what parenting (and being a kid!) is all about. I am interested in the trajectory, not a scorecard for each moment.

  • Saying sorry in parenting is key.

It is a given that I have failed and will fail my kids a lot, probably even today. One of the things I am most concerned with is not when/if I will fail them, but when I do, how do I respond? I want to be quick to say sorry. I remember walking over to Jack while Charles was holding him and looking straight into his little eyes and saying, “I’m sorry, Jack. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.” I pray that my kids will be quick to say sorry in the future because they have seen it modeled. I pray that I will be quick to say it because the need is so admittedly frequent.


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