I was talking to a friend earlier today and she was telling me a story that did not paint her in the greatest parental light, but since I have been in her shoes I did not judge; I offered only empathy at her moment of weakness.
She was explaining what happened when she, her dear hubby, and their three lovely children started to decorate their Christmas tree this year. Everything was ready. The tree was in the stand and the lights strung. They were getting ready to put the ornaments on when it started. At first it was small, barely noticeable but it grew. Boy did it ever.
“Stop it.” Said one.
“I’m not doing anything.” Said another.
“DAD!” Said the first.
“Knock it off!” Said Dad.
From there it escalated. Two little kids screaming and fighting with dad trying to keep it from going off the rails and failing. Then from out of nowhere, number three jumps in and starts pouring gas on the fire. Dad is getting irritated and the kids are ramping up the yelling and the general not getting along. The dog starts barking when in walks mom. At that very moment by friend lost it. Truly and totally. She had herself a grand old Christmas melt-down. A very special and spectacular parenting fail.
She wades into the fight on her way across the room to the tree. When she gets to the tree she grabs it out of the stand, marches over to the porch door, opens the door, and throws the tree over the railing where it tumbles, ends over end, and comes to a rest partly blocking the walkway to the house.
She turns to her family and says, “Christmas is cancelled!”
As she was telling me the story her embarrassment was evident at how she had so completely and totally lost her mind. We all have our moments. You know the ones; they’re the ones that make your personal “Parenting Hall of Shame.” The temporary insanity that can over take almost any parent at one time or another.
I have an actual brick and mortar “Hall of Shame” since my parenting fails are legion. From irritation during family card games to total melt-downs because the remote control wasn’t functioning properly. If I had to choose the top moment, it would have to be when Dylan was in fourth grade. He told me he didn’t feel well. We were running late and I yelled at him to get his butt in gear that he was fine and maybe we needed to change his bedtime to an earlier time so he could get more rest. He persisted that he was sick but I brushed him off and herded him out the door.
I dropped him at school at 8:45 am and went to work. Around 10 am he went to the school nurse. She took one look at him and called me immediately.
She said to me “Barbara, Dylan’s in my office and his lips are blue, you need to come get him and take him to the doctor.”
I raced to school, calling my pediatrician on the way. We got to the office in record time. Turns out he had pneumonia and spent 8 days in the hospital. EIGHT DAYS! Yeah, I’m still apologizing for that one five years later!
Parents are people with emotions and failings. My friend apologized to her family and put the tree back where it belongs and they had a magical evening of trimming the tree and laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
Dylan, I’m happy to report, rebounded from his pneumonia none the worse for wear but I still beat myself up about not listening to him. Not only did I not listen to him, I dismissed him.
I guess the best lesson from these moments, at least for me, is that parents should certainly strive for balance and even-handedness when dealing with their children but if you do succumb to a moment of weakness and lose your calm and reasonableness, it’s not the end of the world. Try to turn it into a teachable moment. Show your kids that even if you do lose your cool, you can and should apologize to people and strive to make it right.
What’s your most spectacular parenting fail?
* Disclaimer: The content of the fight has been altered slightly to protect the innocent.
Barbara Mulvey-Welsh is a mother, writer and blogger raising kids and a husband in Plymouth. Check out her blog at "Did I Say That Out Loud?" Use caution when reading around the family, there is some strong language.