There are few certainties when it comes to parenting. But most of the universal truths that exist are pretty well known. We know babies don’t sleep when we want them to. We know we will, at some point in our parenting journey, clean up pee, poop and vomit. We know that we’ll be inundated with unsolicited advice and receive our fair share of judgment. We’re told over and over again that the days are long and the years are short. We know all this. We’re prepared for this. (Well, as much as anyone can be prepared for the literal shitshow and massive sleep deprivation.)
But there is one universal truth of parenting that no one seems to talk about (except maybe in hushed whispers or gossip at family parties), and it’s this … Just when you think your child “knows better” or “would never do that,” they will in fact do that very thing you thought they would never do.
That’s right, your child will fuck up. Big time.
And because no one talks about it, because you aren’t prepared (and I suppose can never really be prepared for this kind of thing), you’ll feel such profound disappointment, such quivering anger, such deep sadness, such intense confusion that the earth will literally feel like it’s slipped out from under you.
You will look at your child and feel such rage that feel like your head might explode. And at the exact same time, you will see their hurt and remorse and feel such compassion for their pain that you think your heart might shatter into a million pieces.
These kinds of things usually happen just when you’re starting to let your guard down, when you feel like you might not be totally fucking up at this parenting thing. Then BAM! Your kid decides to… well, act like a kid – a kid with an underdeveloped brain and poor impulse control – and you question everything you’ve ever done or said. Because you had thought that you were teaching your kid to be a kind person. You had thought your kid knew not to say hurtful things. You had thought you were raising your child to be an inclusive, truthful person who knew “right” from “wrong.” You had thought they “knew better” and that your kid “would never do that.”
But you were wrong.
Because the truth is parenting isn’t a series of lessons you can check off the list. Kids are stupid and impulsive and self-interested. Kids are human, and humans are inherently flawed. We fuck up – as kids and as parents. We all – kids included – make horrible mistakes. And the truth is you can never say never, and parenting is one giant lesson in humility.
So you wrestle with the questions and confusion and doubts. Is your tween slipping off course? Is your teen headed for destructive behaviors with life-long consequences? Are you completely failing as a parent?
And then after the anger settles, and the consequences are doled out (no phone, no Xbox, dammit), you take a deep breath and you hug your sobbing child. Because you know that they know they fucked up. They are hurting something fierce. And as much as it is your job as a parent to teach them right from wrong, and to show them that their actions have consequences, it is also your job to love them through the pain. And the anger. And the disappointment.
Parenting will change you. We all know this. But what we don’t talk about is how parenting can rock your very foundation, how it can make you doubt everything you had thought to be true, and how it can humble you time and time again.
All we can do is learn and grow and learn some more. We can avoid saying “my kid would never” and thinking “they know better.” We can stop all the judging and shaming because just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, a bomb will drop.
And you’ll be reminded, yet again, that the biggest universal truth of parenting is that it requires a hefty dose of forgiveness — for our kids and ourselves.
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