My husband and I recently forgot to pay rent. We had just moved into a new apartment and then a week later we went camping for five days, and in all the transitions, we just plain forgot. My husband called me in a panic asking me to pay rent because it was late but our new landlord had given us some grace. But I didn’t know where our checks were. I didn’t have a clue what our account number was. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I was getting stressed out. Of course my 3 and 4-year-olds chose this moment to have meltdowns of epic proportions, to beat the snot out of each other over the TV remote, and to generally do everything in their power to drive me over the edge.
I snapped at them. I didn’t want to and I didn’t even really mean to, but my head was spinning with the problem at hand and I shamefully took it out on them. I wish I could say this is the first time I’ve let circumstances beyond their control affect how I raise my children, but it’s not.
You see, I’m human. I make mistakes. I see life — especially the less than desirable events — through hyperbolically negative lenses. I make mole hills into mountains and then into Everest and then into some sort of volcano that the president falls into and then Bill Pullman and Will Smith have to rescue him. And because of this undesirable way of looking at the world, my stressors tend to leak into my parenting.
If I’m anxious about an event or engagement coming up, I may be preoccupied and not spend enough time actively involved with my kids. If my husband and I have recently had a fight, I may be short-tempered with my little ones. If there’s been a recent tragedy, I’m less likely to be as enthused toward my son’s antics as usual.
It pains me to say it because I want to be a perfect parent who gives her kids everything they want and need emotionally and shield them from the harsh realities of the world and what those harsh things do to their mom. But that’s just not how I’m wired because, y’know, I’m not perfect. I overthink and overanalyze, and the lines get blurred between my life as a woman and wife and friend and my life as a mom.
While I’m not proud of it, I do recognize it. And recognizing the problem makes it easier to work through. On my good days, working through it means taking a deep breath and compartmentalizing whatever life situation is trying to steal all my attention. It means making a mental note that I’ll come back to worrying after the kids go to bed, but right now they need me to be an unburdened mom so I can carry their burdens instead. On good days, I can set aside my problems and focus on my kids.
There are also, of course, bad days. These are the days where the weight of life and the stresses of marriage and such are too much for me to handle sometimes, and I snap like I did that morning when I didn’t know how I was going to pay rent. I snap at my kids or ignore them or am just plain despondent all day. It is on these days that I come to my kids and apologize to them. I explain to them in kid-speak that Mommy’s had a rough day and hasn’t been the best mom she could be. I tell them that I’m not perfect, but that I try my best, and tonight my best is saying I’m sorry for letting other life factors affect how I treat them. They may not always understand the full scope of what I’m saying, but they are learning that I’m not superwoman, that it’s right to apologize when you’ve made a mistake, and to extend grace and forgiveness when someone apologizes to you. “We ‘give you, Mom” my 3-year-old will say as he wraps his arms around my neck.
I’m not invincible. I have emotions that get riled up when life happens, and it affects my parenting sometimes. But I’m doing my best, and on days when my best doesn’t seem like enough, I remind my kids I’m human and I apologize and promise to do better. That’s what adults do, and that’s a lesson I want my kids to learn.