“I’m a terrible parent,” you say. “No, really. I’m awful.” And you tell us how you yelled at your kid this morning, and all he did was ask for a cup of juice with breakfast. That’s all he wanted. He was thirsty. And you, you monster, shouted, “Anything else while I’m in there? Speak now or go without!” Because, see, you’d just spent a full 10 minutes playing runner to small children’s culinary needs, and you thought you were done, and then here comes this kid with that one more thing and that makes you want to slap him into next week. You had also just caught the dog drinking your coffee.
There is a proper response to this confession — “No, no, you’re not a terrible parent” — I’m supposed to give, in tones both soothing and shocked.
Except you suck. We all suck.
Or it’s the 3 p.m. witching hour. The kids are hitting each other and hitting you and hitting the dog, all while banshee-screaming at the top of their lungs. So you dig the remote out from under the couch cushions. You flip on A Bug’s Life. You collapse onto the couch with your phone. And when A Bug’s Life ends, so you can start dinner, you change to Dinotrux — on continuous loop.
When you tell me this, I’m supposed to sympathize. I’m supposed to follow with a story of how I let my kids watch The Godfather while I smoked cigarettes on the back porch. Only this can mitigate the guilt you feel.
But it’s time we all got something straight: We all suck as parents. At some points, we’ve all seen things, and we’ve done things. We’ve run out of coffee. We’ve been through an hour-and-a-half Target run only to hit the checkout line with three kids whose blood sugar dropped 30 minutes ago. We’ve arbitrated toy fights until we wanted to donate all the things to Goodwill and sit, Buddha-like, in an empty playroom. We’ve seen our kids throw sand at the park, intentionally wear their shoes on the wrong feet, refuse to wear pants at all.
Philip Larkin, in This Be The Verse, says, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to, but they do / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.” Basically, we’re all screwing this up. To admit otherwise is to believe in some Pinterest-inspired dream world. So it’s time to throw up our hands. We’re all imperfect. We all suck sometimes. We need to let the guilt go.
I get those Facebook ads for positive parenting webinars. And I do not believe in these people. Oh, I believe in positive parenting. But positive parenting doesn’t stop me from suddenly snapping and yelling for them to clean up that block tower, or else. I’ve been cleaning all day, and I just cleaned that room, and all of a sudden some ziggurat of a block tower has arisen in the middle of the floor and been abandoned, like a group of leprechauns suddenly decided to worship Ba’al and then vacated the scene. This structure exists only to fall down and scatter blocks everywhere, which I will have to clean because now the kids are bored and cranky. Every mother knows this. That’s why we raise our voices.
We all use the TV as a parenting crutch, and our kids watch more of it than they should. They don’t even watch the good stuff. They watch Ninjago and shit.
We all don’t read as much as we should. You can only read insipid kids’ books aloud for so long until your brain begins to dribble out of your nose.
We all throw out presents from their grandparents. No one wants a Paw Patrol plane that size. Where the hell are you supposed to store it, the master bedroom?
We all yell. We yell because we need the kids to do something, and they’re acting like they have as much auditory capability as a potted plant. We yell because we’re mad. We yell because we are tired. We yell because they yell.
We feed them junk food, like candy and cookies and gluten.
We all forgot to do that baby footprint art.
In fact, we forget all kinds of things. Lunches and diapers and wipes and permission slips and socks and sanity and the smile we’re supposed to wear all.the.fucking.time.
Face it: We all suck at this parenting thing. Maybe some days are highs of Pinterest crafts and Dr. Seuss and avocado-based lunches. But most of the time, we’re all scrabbling in the trenches, just trying to get out of the house with shoes on. On a good day, we might get to swipe on some mascara and look alive.
So stop the guilt talk. Stop judging that mom in Walmart with the cartful of screaming kids. She forgot her coffee too. And her kids want Matchbox cars, and she’s not buying them because they won’t pick up the stupid cars they already freaking have. Don’t glare. Fist-bump. She is your sister. There but for the grace of God go you. And don’t you damn well forget it.