We had a situation with our 10 year-old daughter this week that threw us into through a loop as parents. I'm not going to go into detail about what went on because it is her situation to share with other people and not mine. I will, however, be sharing what I learned as a parent who has always worried that choices I made in the past would end up being detrimental to my children's growth and development.
I had my daughter when I was 21 years old and I have worried about her since she was the size of a kidney bean. I've worried that I would do something to screw her up, I've worried that I wouldn't be the perfect parent, and I've worried that I would make every wrong decision possible and she would end up in juvie by the age of 12 with tattoos all over her face and piercings from head to toe. (I may have been indulging in some catastrophic thinking...)
Fast forward to 2016.
My baby girl is about to turn 11 in a month. 11!! Two more years and she will be a teenager. She has been referring to herself as a "preteen" since last year with such pride and insistence that I want to pack her in a box with a bunch of barbies and tell her to SLOW DOWN! I don't know about you, but I am not ready for her to be a teenager yet.
I'm not ready, but it's coming anyway.
On Tuesday, we were in that position where as parents you immediately question how you got there. What did you do wrong that got you to this place? You are going back in your mind and thinking of the millions of mistakes you have made since you were 5, desperately trying to find that exact moment that decided this fate. You are the adult. You are the mom. These two things make it YOUR fault. Right?
That is not how it automatically works, my friend! Pull yourself out of your puddle of misery and listen to me. Think about all of the people you know. Your friends, your family, your neighbors, that familiar stranger you always run into at Dunkin' Donuts on your morning commute and the "perfect" mom you see at the bus stop. (You know the one I am talking about - her hair is always straightened by 7:00am with no frizz in sight. She's dressed all business casual even though you know for a fact that she is a stay-at-home-mom who is going to be sitting on her floor playing with Mickey and Thomas toys with her 9 month-old in less than 10 minutes. She even bakes. WHO HAS TIME FOR ALL OF THIS?!!) Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent. (Honestly, we don't even GO to a bus stop in the morning...but I know that woman exists somewhere!) You may think about how they all have it together while you are fumbling through life trying to keep your kids alive and fed and not forget to let the dog out before he pees on the floor. It's a lot of stuff. It may sound easy when you say it like that, but life throws you curve balls. Usually these come in the shape of a tiny Lego your toddler decides to put in their mouth and swallow before you even saw that your older kid had dropped it on the floor, or the broken elbow your 8 year-old got from falling off of the swing because they decided to let go mid-air to try to catch a falling leaf.
I don't care how much you plan ahead, there will always be a crisis that hits that smacks you in the face and pulls the rug out from under you all in one fell swoop.
When it happens, your brain is going to go into that mode where you are berating yourself for being such a bad parent. It is telling you that because you have children, there is no room for accidents or mistakes - you were supposed to become a superhuman the second you decided to procreate.
I'm sorry, but that's not how it works. You are not given a magic wand, or a cape, or even a Ninja Turtles face mask on the day your child is born. (Which would be AWESOME!) You are still you. Please don't spend all of your time trying to undo all of those moments that you have stuffed back into a closet, desperately trying to hide them from your child and the rest of the world so that they won't judge your parenting abilities.
Take them out and look through them. Organize them in a way that you will be able to use them.
That time that you got caught smoking weed and got suspended from high school? Use it. That night when you were stupid enough to drive drunk in college and thankyoubabyjesus didn't hurt anybody, but DID acquire a DUI that will forever be on your record? Use it. That time you followed an old boyfriend across the country only to have your heart broken and your entire world come crashing down and spent the next 6 months in a deep, deep depression where you hated the world and hated yourself even more? Use it.
You cannot change your past. You cannot change the things that make you you. The only thing you have control over is what you are doing in this exact moment on this exact day. All of those yucky things that make your stomach sick and your head hurt when you look back on them....sorry to tell you, but no matter how much you hate them they are NEVER GOING AWAY. Everyone has them. Nobody likes them. But your mistakes mean that you have already gone down the wrong path at some point in time, and that you have the ability to steer your kid away from it before they land in the same place! You have inside information. You know exactly what it feels like to be there, which makes you kind of an expert in that area. Not only did YOU learn from your mistakes - you can pass those lessons onto your kids before they even make them. Stop punishing yourself for being human and start putting your experiences to good use.
And for the times when your kid makes their own mistakes? Stop standing in front of that vicious mirror and blaming yourself. Ain't nobody got time for that! Swallow your pride and just be there for your child. You were in this same place (probably many, many moons ago), so you know how horrible they are feeling right now. They aren't sitting there focusing on your past. They are worried about their own present. Your stupid mistakes aren't even crossing their mind right now. They are busy focusing on their own negative thoughts and feelings about themselves, and that is something you can do something about.
Give them a hug. Tell them it's okay. Tell them everybody screws up. Nobody's perfect. The world feels like it is ending right this moment, but tomorrow the sun is still going to rise and things are going to be a little better and no matter what, YOU ARE GOING TO BE THERE FOR THEM.
That is what matters.
You need to let go of your mistakes and forgive yourself so that you can teach your kids how to do that, too.
Give them a lollipop and snuggle up on the couch in front of a good movie. Hell, get yourself a lollipop as well! Lean on each other and use that love and compassion to get through it. You've totally got this. It's a piece of cake. Don't overthink things. Just do what you feel is right.
You're an expert, remember?
Smile, my friends, and be kind to yourself.