When Parents Make Mistakes
There’s been some amazing conversation happening in the comments in these posts about my recent meltdown and then about smacking. I have loved reading the comments and the conversations that have been sparked elsewhere because of it.
The thing that is standing out to me is the amount of guilt that mother’s feel, especially about smacking. I wrote SmackDown as a kind of off the cuff comment about having smacked Bliss and naiively underestimated the degree to which parents feel strongly about this topic. I have been saddened to read so many comments both here and elsewhere about the amount of guilt Mums feel after smacking their child. Parents saying they are “terrible” that their children would be “better off without me”, that I am a “failure”. My heart breaks.
And it’s not about the smacking.
Neither was my meltdown and cry for help about the smacking. It was about the helplessness I was feeling in the face of ongoing defiance abut every. Little. Thing. All. Day. Long. (In talking to other mothers I’ve discovered this is a common ailment amongst the parents of newly 3′s.)
It seems to me that the guilt is about failure. As sense that “I failed because I made a mistake – and the mistake was just the smack but the loss of control that culminated in a smack.” .
It’s gotten me thinking about how we respond when we make mistakes as parents; how we respond internally to ourselves as parents and how we respond to our children.
One of the great lessons we can teach our children is how to respond when we stuff up – how to be gracious and humble and to ask for forgiveness. My father and I had many a “heated exchange” growing up and one of the most significant lessons he taught me was the value of an apology. He always apologised to me. I can only imagine the swallowing of pride it took for my father, an extremely intelligent man who spent his days in court arguing for a living(!) to apologise petulant teenager who was convinced she was (always) right.
I’ve had a great example of this, and I know that I am lucky.
Where are the examples of women being kind to themselves? Of letting go of guilt and applying the same grace to themselves that they so easily offer to others. How do we do this? How do we model this, both to each other and to our daughters?
I was incredibly frustrated the other day but I didn’t smack Bliss because of that. I smacked her because the behaviour she been demonstrating for weeks on end was unacceptable and every other approach we had offered had failed. And I felt guilty.
I realise now I felt guilty because I thought I should feel guilty. Because I thought I had made a mistake. Because I saw my anger and frustration and thought #fail. Thankfully I also thought “talk” and so Bliss and I did talk. We talked about what happened and about why it happened and about how to make things different.
Talking is good. Grace is good. Having a parenting plan is good (and thanks to everyone who has shared their plans).
How else do we break down the guilt and give ourselves a break? From where I’m sitting, we need it.