Being a parent means failing every day. It’s a role we define by trying our best and giving our all while simultaneously fighting off relentless feelings of worry, fear, criticism, and self-doubt. Just when we think we’ve done the right thing and made the right decision, motherhood has this way of sneaking in and knocking us straight to the ground. Today was no exception, in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m still metaphorically sore and swollen from the blow I received this morning.
Let me tell you about a playground, located about 5 minutes from our house. My kids and I go there often. It’s always fun, never too busy, and close to home. It’s perfect… with the exception of this slide:
We have a rule about this slide. Since our very first visit going, it has been off-limits. It’s too old, too high, and literally every parent’s worst nightmare. Every time we go to this park, my kids ask about the slide. “Please mom!” “Can we go down the slide!?” “We’ll be careful!”
I don’t even pause to pretend I’m thinking about it. It’s not safe. They could fall. They could get hurt. The answer is always no. Period.
Well, today, we decided to spend the morning at the park. As we pulled up to the playground, I noticed that we had the entire place to ourselves. The weather was beautiful. My kids were having fun. They were swinging on the swings, twirling on the merry-go-round, playing on the monkey bars, and crawling through the tunnels. Everything about the day was going smoothly. After about 20 minutes, my three-year-old asked the inevitable question, “Mommy, can we go down the slide?”
I looked at her pleading, confident eyes. She’s such a strong girl, a ball of energy, this one… “Sweet girl… I’m afraid you’ll get hurt.”
“But mom! I can do it! PLLLLEEEASSSSEEEE!”
What’s a mother to do? We can’t shield them in our arms forever, right? (Although if it was socially acceptable to wrap my kids in bubble wrap, I totally would). Every ounce of my mother’s intuition told me to say no.
But I didn’t. This time, I said yes.
I said yes because I want my children to be unafraid. I want them to radiate confidence. I want them to believe in themselves and experience new things. While I would never knowingly put my kids in danger, something was pulling at me this time to let them try. If I forever told them NO, wouldn’t they eventually stop asking? Then what? What would that teach them? What if they lost their self-confidence or their spark? They can’t be covered in my bubble wrapped hands forever, remember?
I walked both my daughter and my two-year-old son over to that dreaded slide. Before letting them go, I crouched down to their level and spoke to them carefully. We discussed the importance of holding onto the handlebar when walking up the steps. We talked about sitting down and keeping their bottoms on the slide. We talked about the importance of keeping their legs close together and their feet forward so that their bodies would glide down the slide smoothly. We talked about taking turns and being safe.
With my “mom worry” in serious overdrive, I finally let them go. As one would expect, both kids went running toward the steps before I even had a chance to consider changing my mind. They proudly reached the top. They carefully sat down. They flashed me their super happy, confident toddler smiles. I was so nervous for them and so anxious for myself, but I was also proud. Proud of my two little kiddos who were doing everything right, just as I had told them. They had listened carefully to my instructions and were taking turns going up and down that slide without any hesitation. Honestly, I felt proud of myself. ‘See momma?’ I thought. “They’re doing just fine. Sometimes you just need to loosen the reins, (say a little prayer), and relax.”
You know what happened next?
My two-year-old fell from the top of the slide.
Right there, as I stood proud of my decision to give them an opportunity to do something they’ve never done, allowing them to be brave, allowing myself to be brave… my worst fear became reality. I watched my two-year-old son lean forward, somersault into the air, and fall to the ground. I’m not sure whose scream was loudest — my daughter’s, my own, or my son’s.
Before I go any further, let me reassure you… my son was just fine. The fall did not warrant a trip to the ER. Luckily, the ground was soft thanks to mulch covered mud from the past two days of rainy weather. A few minutes of cuddles, kisses, and dinosaur shaped fruit snacks was all the medical attention he needed before he was ready to get back to the playground. (Well, everything on the playground except for that terrible slide, which I was now ready to start tearing down myself).
Parents, even when we’re trying our best to make the right decision for our children, we’re going to sometimes fail. We ALL fail. Some people just do a better job of hiding their failures than others. Some people refuse to talk about their failures. For me, sharing my failures is therapeutic. It’s relieving to talk about this thing that nobody likes to talk about. Because here’s the even bigger point- parenting doesn’t come with a manual. It is not black and white. There is NO right or wrong.
Before I could call myself a mother, a friend of mine gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received as a parent. She warned me of all the varying and conflicting opinions I would likely hear throughout my pregnancy. She explained that while most of those opinions would be sincere in nature, they could also lead to overwhelming feelings of insecurity and intimidation, especially as a first-time mom.
“Trust your instinct”, she said. “You are going to be that sweet little girls’ mother and you will know her best. Whatever you do, whatever choices you make- if they are made out of love, they are right.”.
Those words have left such a profound impact on my role as a parent, even now, as a mother of three. The decision to let my brave kiddos try the slide was made because I WANT them to be brave, to experience new things, and not be afraid of something new. This time, it didn’t turn out as I expected and I’m still struggling to get that fall out of my head, but you know what? My decision felt right in the moment. It was made out of love and it lead to a lesson learned and an experience gained.
If you are beating yourself up for a recent ‘parenting fail’ or struggling with a tough decision now… take heart in knowing that you’re not alone. We’re all failing. And whatever decision you make for your sweet children… if it’s out of love, it’s right.