Before I became a parent, I used to imagine there was this child-raising formula: love + good intentions = great parenting. Now that I have actual experience in actual parenting, I realize that it doesn't really work that way. Because guess what? Parenting involves human beings. And sometimes, humans beings are messy.
I lost it last week with my daughter.
She is three. She is passionate, feisty, and sometimes goes berserk (as three-year-olds are inclined to do). On average, she has about 3-4 meltdowns per day. These meltdowns may be triggered by any number of horrible experiences. Such as her oatmeal didn't have enough milk in it. Or I asked her to pick up the utensil she dropped. Or her pull-up diapers "feel squishy."
Last week, I was helping her get ready for naptime. She was in her bed, and asked me to turn her fan on. I did. Then she complained, "I can't feel it!" I adjusted the fan closer. "I still can't feel it!" I pulled the fan as far as the cord would reach, and positioned it four inches from her face. "I still can't feel it!" I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I needed to be the calm adult, and moved the fan again. "Okay, this is the best I can do," I told her. She kicked the air and shouted at me, "I STILL CAN'T FEEL IT!"
Snap. My frustration boiled over, I lost that tiny shred of rational thinking, and I shouted back, "WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?"
Which is obviously a productive question to ask a toddler. But I didn't stop there. I stormed out into the living room, to where my husband was sitting on the couch.
In a desperate attempt at sympathy and help, I said, "I don't know what to do with her FUCKING FAN."
It was basically my version of a tantrum. Things were not going the way I wanted, and I was angry.
Steve's eyes went wide, as he silently pointed toward the coffee table. Crouched under the table was our six-year-old son. My kid had just witnessed his mom yelling the f-word loud and clear. While that new bit of information dawned on me, my gallant husband tried to play off the moment, saying, "Hey Aaron, were you hiding from Mom? She had no idea you were there! Okay, time for your nap."
In that moment, I was completely horrified at how badly I had messed up.
Mean, accusing voices spun through my head. What a terrible mother you are. Good parents don't yell at their kids. Those are the words I hear when I screw up. I know they are lies, yet I still hear them.
But then a different voice spoke up in me. You're human. She's human. Humans screw up sometimes. You're learning.
A mentor of mine, who I consider to be an amazing mom to her three kids, once told me, "I love my kids. But sometimes, I really want to just kick them." Her words capture for me just how human and messy this parenting thing is.
I love my kids and try to do my best as their parent, but sometimes I really screw up.
I'm learning to be okay with losing it once in awhile. And to apologize and ask forgiveness. And to extend compassion when other people lose it.
Maybe parenting isn't so much about doing it great all the time. Maybe it's more about sticking with each other through the mess and screw ups, and continuing to love each other.