My daughter and I got into an argument on Tuesday. Nope. Forget that. I’ll be totally honest. It was a knockdown, drag-out fight. There was yelling. There was cursing. There were tears. It was no one’s finest moment.
I am not infallible. She may have lit the fire but I grabbed the gasoline, dumped it on there, and then did a dance around the whole mess.
Tuesday was a crap day. I had too much to do before heading out on vacation the next day. The election had my anxiety through the roof. I had leftover sadness from the anniversary of a friend’s death. Of course, a high level of hormones draped over this mess like a wet blanket.
On a good day, I would have let the mildly annoying thing my daughter did slide. We could have had a calm conversation about it later in the evening over pizza. Instead, we had it out while trapped in a car together on a short ride home from her practice. An 8-minute car ride of doom and despair.
I’ve said it before. My kid can be savage. She knows all of my buttons. She can take responsibility for her actions and then turn around and make it my fault anyway like you’ve never seen. She’s a clever brute.
She has one move that goes for the jugular. She will make me feel awful about something totally random from years prior that triggers the most horrific shame storm imaginable. If you want to see me triggered into a rage, shame me.
Sitting in that car, in that shame storm, I felt like the worst mother that had ever walked the earth. This is not unusual behavior. I don’t know any parent in the history of child-rearing that hasn’t had that dark moment with themself.
The problem is that those dark moments are complete and utter lies.
We’re not horrible parents because we yell, slam doors, or cry angry tears in front of our kids that scare them just a skosh. We’re just human. Slightly unhinged humans, but humans nonetheless.
The dark moments also become erasers for every good thing we’ve done in caring for our children. Just that same morning, I had a cup of coffee while French braiding my daughter’s hair for school. That went out the window of my memory along with every “I love you,” every volleyball game, every movie marathon.
The fact that she crawled into bed with me a few days before, crying over a fight with her girlfriend was just gone. I had convinced myself that those moments would not be remembered by her in the long run, just that 8-minute car ride where I turned into Joan Crawford.
Somehow, we rewrite the narrative of our parenting, placing ourselves in the role of the antagonist. We’re the evil villain.
I am begging and imploring my fellow parents: please, let’s stop doing this to ourselves. There will be days that just suck. We can’t stop that. What we can do is stop allowing them to be the center of where we find our value as parents.
Let’s face it. Parenting isn’t for the weak of heart. It is some hard, real shit and we are flying blind, going merely on what our gut and any parenting advice we can remember tells us at the moment. I don’t know about you but the only message my brain gets in that moment is no more detailed than “don’t maim your child.” My internal advice-giving machine is pretty non-specific.
Giving our best is going to look different every day. Somedays, we’ll fall short. We can understand that but we need to let it go. We can recognize that our children are still intact and look at the situation not from a lens of self-loathing but from a place of self-discovery.
I’m currently sitting in a tiny cabin in Colorado by myself because I needed to take a minute to catch my breath from 2020. When I get back, I have work to do. I need to fix what I broke. Not because I owe anything to my daughter, she played her part too, but because I owe myself grace.
I’m going to sit down with her and let myself off the hook. I need to give her a sincerely crafted apology for flying off the handle and find a way for us to prevent a fight like this from happening again.
I want her to hear my ownership of what happened but it’s also important for her to see that I’ve forgiven myself, too. After all, it’s a far worse thing to teach my child self-loathing than it is to let her see me lose my cool one in a blue moon.