Have you ever felt like you’re failing as a parent? Of course you have. We all have, right? I’m willing to bet there isn’t a single parent out there who feels completely confident in their choices 100% of the time. My question is this: Where do you draw the line? How can you tell when your parenting fails become too numerous—or too serious? And what do you do when the guilt becomes so crushing that you feel physically weighed down by all the things you’re doing wrong?
All guilt, all the time.
As parents, we instinctively worry and feel guilty about everything. Is my kid getting too much screen time? Absorbing enough vitamins? Eating too much sugar? Spending the right amount of time outside? Socializing properly? Hitting all the right milestones (at the right times)? We’re supposed to take adequate time for ourselves, but also ensure our children are getting the correct amount of our undivided attention. We don’t want to be helicopter parents, but we also don’t want to take any risks with our children’s safety. No matter what choices we make, it feels like we can’t ever win. We’re fighting a losing battle.
If you ever read up on this topic, you’ll undoubtedly hear that, of course, you’re doing just fine. We are all doing the best we can, and our children are going to be okay. But here’s my worry: What if they aren’t?
When your kid sticks freeze-dried fruit up her nose . . .
When I started writing this post, I’d just returned home from my daughter’s second trip to the ER in 10 months. This time? A piece of freeze-dried fruit (allegedly) stuck up her nose. The parenting fail occurred the evening before, as I was driving us to have dinner with a friend. As a rule, I don’t like to give Little G any food in the car. I don’t need the added worry that my accident-prone kid is going to choke in the back seat. I usually just give her water. If I can get it together early enough, I’ll also try to make her a smoothie if I think she’s going to be hungry.
However, on that particular evening, I didn’t have it together. I was running late. We were leaving for an hour-long drive, my daughter needed a snack, and I thought, “Hey, these fruits are tiny. There’s no way she’ll choke. . .” Little G enjoyed the snack—”mum mums,” as she calls the fruits, for some inexplicable reason—and all seemed to be fine until we arrived at my friend’s house. G looked at me earnestly and said, “Mum mum in nose,” and pointed to her left nostril. Shooting my friend a horrified glance, I said to G, “You didn’t stick a mum mum up your nose, did you?” I took a quick look, but didn’t see anything. So, we went about our evening.
Once we got home, though, G kept telling me, “Mum mum in nose, mum mum in nose.” I was pretty convinced she wasn’t making things up, so I did a quick search to find the proper procedure for the “mother’s kiss” (a great way to try to get things out of kids’ noses without resorting to more invasive measures). I blocked my daughter’s clear nostril and blew hard into her mouth. When it didn’t produce the desired result, G went off to run a few laps around our kitchen island. She came back about a minute later with a partially rehydrated “mum mum,” and handed it to me. “Did this come from your nose?” I asked. But G, being 23 months old, just gave me a look, pointed to her left nostril, and said, “In here.” Then she ran off again.
Failing as a parent: reflections following a trip to the ER.
I was fairly certain that the piece of fruit had, indeed, come from her nose. However, there was no way to be sure. After some further questioning, I suspected she may have put more than one fruit up there.
Like any normal parent, I took to Google. That’s when the worry started to set in. There were stories of inhaled objects causing lung problems. I worried about what would happen if and when this freeze-dried fruit expanded in size. I think I got about four hours of sleep that night. Before I finally dozed off, I made the decision to take G into Sick Kids when we woke up.
The hospital visit itself was amazing. We were in and out in 30 minutes, confident that G had, in fact, not stuck another piece of fruit up her nose. We also had the amazing Wendy and her son Will along for moral support, which made the whole ordeal so much easier to bear. After we left, it was business as usual. That is, until I put G to bed for the night and it hit me: she had been in the ER as many times in the last 10 months as I had through my whole first 18 years of life. What the hell was I doing wrong?
Washing your child’s blood from your clothes is never easy.
I sat there dwelling on Little G’s laundry list of toddler injuries. Her first ER visit happened over Thanksgiving when she was 15 months old. We were at the family cottage, and G tripped and cut open the bridge of her nose on the lip of a wood stove. The stove hadn’t been on, and G hadn’t been running around, so it hadn’t occurred to us that she shouldn’t be near it. I had no idea the stove had a sharp lip. That injury resulted in three stitches and a scar in the middle of her face that she’ll have for the rest of her life. The guilt hits me multiple times a day when I rub the scar with vitamin E during diaper changes and cover it in sunscreen before she goes outside.
I also remembered how that Thanksgiving injury was the third time in a week that I had to clean my daughter’s blood out of my clothes. She’d had two other falls before we left for the weekend. First, a split upper lip, and second, a split lower lip and a bruised forehead. Even though they happened almost a year ago, I remember them as if it were yesterday. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the sight of my daughter’s blood on my clothes. I hope like hell that I’ll never have to. There’s also little chance that I’ll ever end the running tally I keep of my daughter’s injuries—of all the ways I failed her.
Seriously contemplating raising my kid in a padded room.
If you’ve read my previous posts, you may remember that the intrepid G is an active, exuberant kid who rarely walks when she can run, and has little care for her own safety. If I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think she’s that out of the ordinary as far as toddlers go. They are all a bunch of walking skinned knees and head bumps.
But I can’t help but feel like I’m doing something wrong. My kid would have far fewer scrapes and bruises if she walked instead of ran. Maybe I should be keeping a closer eye on her while she plays and eats. Maybe I should just keep her strapped in her car seat and stroller at all times, and let her loose only when we find a wide open lawn with no pavement or uneven ground in sight. Honestly though, I’m not sure I ever want to be responsible for suppressing that look of pure, unadulterated joy that appears on G’s face as she takes off at a run.
I’m failing as a parent, but I think that’s okay.
So where does that leave us? My gut tells me I’m screwed no matter what I do. If I hover and help and restrain, G will never feel confident in her abilities. If I give her space to figure things out on her own, she will undoubtedly get hurt. All I can do is try to keep my parenting fails to a minimum. I will be more present during meals, I won’t feed G in the car, and I will continue to cut baby carrots, grapes, and cherry tomatoes lengthwise to prevent choking. Furthermore, I will keep enforcing the rules we put in place to keep her safe. I will continue to explain to her why those rules are important.
But at the end of the day, as horrible as it sounds, I will also have to come to terms with feeling like a failure. Because, let’s face it, there is no way you can watch your child fall without blaming yourself. I should have made her slow down. I should have been holding her hand. I shouldn’t have left her unsupervised while she ate tiny pieces of fruit that she can fit up her nose . . . There it is. I’m failing as a parent. I let my child get hurt, and it won’t be the last time. It feels like shit, but I think that’s par for the course in parenthood.
So let’s get back to my original question. What do you do when the guilt becomes so crushing that you feel physically weighed down by all the things you’re doing wrong? My answer: You keep trying. You have a big cry, wallow in self-pity, or bang your head against the wall. And then you try harder next time. I don’t expect that the guilt will ever go away. That feeling of failure is going to keep coming back for a long, long time. As much as it guts me to think about, some days our kids won’t be okay. I think that’s just life, and life really sucks sometimes. But we are parents. We are superheroes. And we are still raising kick-ass kids. That’s got to count for something, right?
Have you ever felt like you were failing? What did you do to cope? We’d love to hear your story!