Parenting: A Daily Lesson in Failure

There’s a scene in one of my favorite television shows, “The Killing,” where the main character, Sarah Linden, describes the never-ending cycle of failure and success that is being a police officer.

You try, but you have go to home at night, worried you didn’t do enough; maybe you missed something. You fail every day, and you keep coming back.

If you watch the show, you’ll see how this describes more than one situation for the plot and characters. But for me, this piece of dialogue perfectly describes how it feels to be a parent.

I’m going on 11 years of being a mom this November. And more often than not, I still feel like I have no clue what I’m doing. I do my best to choose my words carefully and parent to what works for Sophie. But I’m not perfect, and I slip up and feel like I failed. And all the work I did that day goes out the window.

I ask myself often: Are my expectations too high? Should I bite my tongue more than I do? Should I not have talked to Sophie about her attitude? Or maybe I shouldn’t have suggested she do/say/wear this or that?

Or most recently, why did I completely lose my cool over mayonnaise?

Let me explain.

Sophie was making a turkey sandwich for lunch. She cut the crusts off the slices of wheat bread (I held my tongue at the crust removal) and then began spreading Hellman’s on the bread. “I don’t know why people don’t like mayonnaise,” she said. “I love it!”

I agree with Sophie’s assessment of mayo, as the condiment accompanies my turkey sandwiches too. But as she finished making her lunch, she placed her tongue to the mayo-lined spreader and began licking.

“What are you doing?! That’s pure fat!” I shouted, horrified that plain mayo was going into her mouth. My reaction even surprised me. She looked at me stunned and started to cry.

After I realized what an idiot I was being, I (somewhat) calmly explained that mayo isn’t really something you consume on its own. It’s okay on sandwiches and in dishes, but it’s not a healthy snack or something to eat off the knife like peanut butter.

Why couldn’t I have said that instead of freaking out like a lunatic?

I’ve tried so hard to talk about food and exercise as tools to be healthy, and not in terms of fat and weight. I had a childhood where consuming sugar and “bad food” was akin to doing drugs and binge-drinking alcohol. As a result, I vowed never to do that to my own daughter. That’s why I was so ashamed of my behavior.

I apologized to Sophie for my reaction and we both moved on. She didn’t seem to harbor any ill will. But of course as I was laying in bed later that night, I was reminded of our interaction and I felt so bad.

Why is it that you can have a perfectly good day and then one interaction with your child sends it all into disarray? Whether it’s mayonnaise or a comment about an online game, or talking about behavior toward others, or not allowing hair dye … all these things inevitably lead to a downward spiral of negativity.

That’s when I come back to that writing from “The Killing.” I wake up fresh each day and try to do my best, and then evening comes and I feel like I failed.

Someone once told me feeling this way is actually a good thing, because it means that I care. I hope that’s the case.

I imagine this feeling never really ends (the joys of parenthood). But the worries and failures change over time. When Sophie was a baby, my family doctor described parenting to me as this:

When your kids are little, your biggest fear is they’ll run into the middle of the street and get hit by a car. But then they get older, and your biggest fear is they’ll be driving the car that hits the little kid.

Isn’t that the truth?!

So I’ll continue to try. And fail. And wake up every day and do it all again. Because I’m in this parenting thing for the long haul. And while the failures seem like they echo the loudest, I try to remind myself the successes are pretty powerful in their own right.

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