getting real

I Learned To Cut Myself Some Slack, For My Kids’ Sake

I’d lie in bed regretting that I’d yelled or lost my patience too quickly.

I had to learn that I was never going to be a perfect parent and that was ok.
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I used to yell a lot when my kids were young. My voice was my way of trying to gain control with three toddlers who loved to be loud and express themselves. I lost my patience quickly during their younger years when they wouldn’t nap or have a public temper tantrum. But I was at my absolute worst during their tween and teen years.

I was a single mom by the time they reached their teens. Since they were with me 70 percent of the time, I was the parent who dealt with all their mood swings, and I was the one who rushed to school to pick them up if they were misbehaving. I saw the majority of their struggles, and I was the parent who heard about missing schoolwork. I had to make sure that they stayed on track because I was the default parent when I was married — and even more so after my divorce.

There were so many nights I’d lay in bed regretting that I’d yelled at them, been too harsh with a punishment, or lost my patience too quickly.

Sometimes, I knew I wasn’t handling something right or taking my stressful day out on my kids. As a single mom, I sometimes expected too much from them and wanted them to help me more or recognize that I was having a bad day — when they needed to be kids.

And then, on top of feeling shitty about my parenting mistakes, the guilt would eat away at me.

It was a vicious cycle. I got even more short-tempered and irritable. I also started to see that I lacked compassion and empathy for myself, which was contagious. Then I started lacking it for others, including my kids, which was the opposite of what I wanted.

I was trying to be perfect, and punishing myself for not being perfect caused tension and anxiety. I somehow thought if I beat myself up enough, that would correct my behavior. It only made it worse.

Instead of being more patient with my kids, I grew more impatient. Instead of just letting something small like a missed homework assignment roll off my shoulders, it felt like a huge deal. I was like a pressure cooker, and until I gave myself some grace and forgiveness for not always handling every situation perfectly, I was so stressed about my mistakes they consumed me.

I’m not sure exactly when I started spiraling. I convinced myself that if I forgave myself, that would mean I’d screw up more often. I thought cutting myself a break would make me lazy. It’s pretty twisted of me!

But that wasn’t the case. Once I forgave myself, it took the pressure off. I was able to make peace with the fact I was going to screw up a lot. My kids needed to see I was trying my best, but we are all flawed. I was able to admit my mistakes and move on. I was done living in the constant loop of judging myself.

There was a massive shift when I started to look at my parenting mistakes with compassion. I still made them but made fewer of them, and I was in a much better place.

That was what my kids needed. They didn’t need a mother who was constantly in a twist over every little thing. They didn’t need a mother who was trying to be perfect. They needed me to see them and be there for them. That wasn’t something I could do when I was judging myself. You have to love yourself to make room for others to love you, too.

I forgave my parenting mistakes not just for me but for my kids. And it’s something I still work on every single day, because parenting is hard whether they are three or 20 years old.

We have to be forgiving of ourselves so we can be forgiving of other people. Otherwise, we’re just holding on to past resentments. It’s no way to parent and it’s certainly no way to live while our kids are watching.

Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.