My Wild Years Made Me A Better Mom

by Kimberly Zapata
afraid i'd be a bad mom
Tverdohlib / iStock

I remember bits and pieces of the “night in question.” I remember stumbling off of a school bus and into a bar. (Yes, this gal got shitfaced on a yellow beer bus tour, and then thought it was a good idea to keep drinking!) I ate wings and French fries and drank more beer. I’m sure I said a bunch of stupid shit and flashed my breasts no less than two times — since that is what I did in those days — and then I piled into a friend’s car and headed to a strip club because it was my birthday.

At 26, my stupid shenanigans knew no bounds.

And it was in Philadelphia’s “premiere gentlemen’s establishment” that I lost my proverbial shit. Sometime between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., things began to unravel. I began to fall apart, and while I’m not sure whether the rum shots or red-headed sluts set me off — or maybe that private dance in the champagne room — before I knew it, I was crying in the bathroom about being a bad person and a bad mom. Before I knew it, no less than four strippers were at my side, in various states of dress (and undress). And before I knew it, I was being consoled by said strippers.

They were giving me pep talks while my drunk ass sat on the potty.

(Go ahead. Laugh. I’ll wait.)

But the thing is that even through this whole scenario was nothing short of a shitshow, what I learned in the minutes — hell, maybe even the hours — that followed was that “bad” is a relative term. “Bad” is an analogous term, and when referring to one’s parenting, “bad” is almost always a bullshit term.

Make no mistake: There are bad people in the world, and there are bad parents. But most parents who refer to themselves as “bad” do so because they are imperfect, because they made a mistake, or because they want to be better. It’s because they strive for more than they have.

Case in point: me, and my misguided meltdown.

You see, as I mentioned, one of the reasons I broke down was because I was certain I would be a “bad mom.” No, I wasn’t a mom yet. In fact, this incident happened four years before I had my daughter, but I cried that evening because I was so sure I would be a “bad mom” that I wouldn’t even consider motherhood. I desperately want a child, but I wouldn’t allow myself the opportunity to conceive.

I was sure I was too broken and too damaged to a decent mom.

I was too broken and damaged to be the mom that my unborn child deserved.

How so? Well, I was $60,000 in debt (thanks, student loans). I was in a relationship with an alcoholic, and I was just as sick as a result of said relationship, and because I had a long-standing history with mental illness. I struggled with — and still struggle with — anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations.

But these women — God bless these women — helped me see my flaws as strengths. They helped me see worth in my faults, and they helped me find value in my shortcomings.

One woman, dressed in a black bralette and matching thong, helped me see my debt in a positive light. She explained it gave me perspective. She assured me my financial struggles would help me teach my children the value of a dollar. It would help me show them the lengths Mommy was willing to go to in order to get an education and to make a better life — because that was what she was doing.

She was dancing her way through college.

She was dancing to care for her kid.

Another woman, whose face I cannot recall, told me that while my relationship far from ideal, I was strong and brave for being in it, and for facing demons that many others cannot.

And yet another woman told me my mental illnesses wouldn’t make me a bad mom. Instead, she assured me it would make me a better one, as I would be more empathetic and understanding. My disease could (and would) make me more open, more patient, more careful, and more compassionate. Plus, she added that the fact that I was crying about this now — before I was a parent or even pregnant — proved I cared.

My strip club meltdown proved I would be a good mom, and not a bad one.

However, the greatest lesson I learned from these gals wasn’t something they told me, and it wasn’t something they did. Instead, it was what I witnessed and what I observed. It was what I came to understand about their determination, their dedication, their drive, fortitude, and strength.

Many assume strippers are weak, or they are women who come from neglected homes or abusive relationships. Many assume strippers are drug addicts or alcoholics. They assume strippers are college dropouts or sex fiends with no self-respect. But those were not the women I saw. Those were not the women I met.

Instead, the women I met were well-spoken and well-read. The women I met were hardworking and tough. And the women I met were strong and empowered and wise beyond their years. They were college students and college graduates. They were sisters, daughters, mothers, and wives.

Today, my only regret about that evening is that I do not remember it more clearly, that I do not remember each and every word they said to me, or each and every bit of wisdom they imparted.

Sure, maybe I regretted getting “white girl wasted” the next morning, when I woke up with a hangover, when I had to do the proverbial walk of shame back to said club to retrieve my cell phone, and when I had to ask the same bouncers who had seen me crying hours ago to let me in, and to help me find the damn thing.

But today, I don’t.

That evening changed my life. What those gals taught me about my “weaknesses” and “faults” and “flaws” has forever changed me as a person. And what those women saw in me — a complete and total stranger — gave me hope, for my future and for theirs.

Their “bad mom” speech helped ease my mind and push me toward welcoming a future pregnancy, as they helped alleviate my fears about not being able to be a good mom to my future child.

I didn’t stop my wild ways right away, of course. I kept making “bad decisions” for the next three years. With bad decisions came good memories (and good sex). With bad decisions came experience and wisdom. And now I just chalk up every stupid thing I have ever done to training. My “wild years” play (and will play) an important part in my parenting.

My wild years made me a better mom.