There’s a reason that parenting books all feel like a crock after a while. See, they tend to forget that parents are human beings.
As much as we might wish to discipline our children with consistency, kindness and patience at all times, the fact is that many, many times we will fail miserably. Every person brings a fat load of baggage with them into parenting. Unpacking it can be disheartening indeed.
Guilty as charged
When we were at Woodford this year, I had a bit of a ‘moment’ that was a real game-changer. I swore in my son Max’s face. I basically yelled at him to “f*ck off and leave me alone”.
Not my finest parenting moment.
The truth is, I was devastated that I had lost my temper so badly that I had sworn at my kid. Not just around my kid, but at him.
Max stormed off, my husband Bart rounded up our girls and hastily followed and I was left alone at the campsite, guilty as charged. I kicked a few tent pegs, pushed over a camping chair then sat down for a quiet weep. I actually don’t feel “mum guilt” very often, but right then I was drowning in it.
Soon the German guy who was camped a few doors up from us came over. He righted the upturned camping chair, sat down beside me and waited patiently until I was done.
“You’ve got to forgive yourself, mama,” he said quietly. “You’re only human and humans sometimes swear when people are being horrible to them. He knows that.”
“The best thing you can do as a parent right now is forgive yourself, apologise to your son, ask for an apology in return and move on.”
Which was all wonderful advice, but he followed it up with gold:
“There is no one better to teach a kid how to get through something than a parent who has been there herself.”
German camping neighbour was right, of course. Packing this latest “wrong” into my over-large parenting baggage wasn’t going to do Max any good at all. I knew that. I knew this was something I didn’t really need to feel guilty about, but it took the wisdom and patience of a stranger to make me believe it was really okay.
Fact is, we need listen to the wisdom within us more often.
We really don’t need the preachy parenting books. Most of the time, we already know what we need to do, we’re just not doing it because we’re so used to ignoring ourselves and soldiering on. We don’t make ourselves a priority and we don’t give ourselves credit for all the things we have gotten right within ourselves.
I know that I have a short temper and it was futile of me to demand that Max learn how to manage his own short fuse better, when clearly I was struggling to do that very thing myself. It made a huge difference when I acknowledged to him that a shitty temper is a flaw we share and suggested that perhaps between us we could work on finding a solution.
We don’t need to have all the answers
I’m trying to show my kids that we’re never ‘done’. We are never complete people with all the answers and all the boxes ticked. We are a work in progress our whole lives. Which I think is a very comforting thing for a kid to know.
Giving ourselves permission to grow and change means we get to show our kids that we are not perfect people – we are actually just like them. Overcoming flaws and drawing on strengths. We are really just figuring it out as we go along, using all of the resources we’ve picked up along the way.
Lucky for my kids, I have loads of resources packed into the huge amount of baggage I brought with me to parenting. I’m going to ask them to help me unpack it, one bag at a time.
Are you working on your baggage?
Image by Erwan Hesry