Letting Go Of Our Mistakes Even When They Affect Our Children

by Christine Burke
kieferpix / iStock

The text came, and my phone vibrated on the car seat next to me.

I was already overscheduled and harried that afternoon, having worked a 10-hour day while trying to juggle carpool organizing, activity scheduling, and child-rearing.

As I gripped the steering wheel and headed to dinner with my in-laws and kids in tow, I mentally went through everything I needed to accomplish in the next few days. My mind was a whirl of chorus concert dates, deadlines, holiday preparations, and a variety of other details I was certain I’d probably forget.

When I came to a rolling stop at a stop sign, I picked up my phone to briefly look at the text that had just buzzed. And immediately I realized I’d fucked up.

The text was from my daughter’s Girl Scout leader, asking me why my daughter wasn’t at an event that was the culmination of a project she’d been working on with her troop. If my daughter didn’t attend, she wouldn’t be able to receive an award she was looking forward to achieving: an award she’d spent months preparing for with the other girls in her troop — something that made her very proud as she told me the details after every meeting.

The event was that night, and I was in no position to get her there to participate.

She wasn’t going to lose that award because she was lazy or because she hadn’t finished the requirements. No, she was going to miss out because her mother can’t seem to get her shit together these days.

And right there at that stop sign, as my mother-in-law registered the upset look on my face, I burst into tears. I felt like the worst mom on the planet.

How could I have let my daughter’s important achievement fall through the cracks? When did my life become so filled with chaos that I could barely keep my head above water?

As tears silently streamed down my face, I pulled into the restaurant parking lot. My father-in-law herded the kids inside, and my mother-in-law sat quietly with me as I tried to compose myself. She let me have my ugly cry, the tears falling on my lap as I sobbed out the frustrations of being everything to everyone (in other words, of being a mother).

When the tears finally slowed and I took a cleansing breath, my mother-in-law looked at me and said evenly, “You know that you aren’t your mistakes, right?”

I gratefully accepted her offer of a tissue and contemplated her statement.

I thought about how hard we work as mothers to make sure our kids have everything they need. We fill our days with appointments, errands, and carpooling. We remember who likes peanut butter on their sandwiches and who only wants green grapes in their lunch box. We know how to buy the perfect present for a birthday party, and we’ve learned how to decipher Common Core math problems to avoid a homework meltdown. We kiss the boo-boos, we lay down the law, and we pray our kids won’t turn out to be assholes.

Every minute of every day, we are solely focused on our kids and our family life.

It’s no wonder we forget things along the way.

You can argue that moms take on too much and don’t delegate enough. You can point fingers and say things like, “Well, her husband should help too,” or “Don’t be a do-it-all martyr.” One might even roll their eyes and say, “Good Lord, just let it go. It was just a mistake.”

But moms aren’t equipped to let things go. We take our jobs seriously, and when we make mistakes that affect our kids, we feel the guilt deeply. We feel the shame of not being able to juggle work responsibilities and a calendar that looks more complicated than a college football playbook. When we realize that we’ve dropped one of the hundreds of balls we’ve got in the air, we don’t continue to look at the sky and admire the balls we are still managing. Rather, we look at that lone ball on the floor and feel completely dejected.

And it sucks.

I know I’m far from perfect, and I know this won’t be the last time I make a mistake that negatively affects my kids. And maybe that’s OK. Maybe it teaches my kids that I’m a human after all and not really the badass superhero I pretend I am every afternoon during carpool.

But while occasionally dropping a ball that’s important to my kids may teach them that I have faults, it doesn’t make having to look at that kid and own up to my mistake any easier.

As we sat in the dark parking lot, another text buzzed my phone. It was the troop leader, telling me they’d wait a few minutes if I wanted to try to get my daughter to the event. My mother-in-law ran into the restaurant to collect my daughter, and we hurried over to the event. When she bounded into the room to join her troop with a smile on her face, I realized my daughter wouldn’t remember I had messed up. She forgave me for getting her there late and didn’t hold a grudge that she had missed out on dinner with her grandparents.

And I let myself off the hook, just this once. Because I am not my mistakes. Mostly.