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Apologies, Hugs, and Imperfect Parenting

Mother Holding BabyParenting is not an easy task. Whether there is one of you, two of you, or a whole village (as per that saying that it takes a village to raise a child), there is no guarantee that raising a child (or more than one) will be a walk in the park.

It’s strange that we can get degrees and certificates, classes and training, in pretty much everything … but parenting is something that we can enter into without a single class. Yet it is the most challenging of any task or responsibility we will ever undertake.

I just got a letter from someone who follows this blog. The note reminded me of a time, a couple years ago, when I was starting to struggle with being a mom. (Well, actually, I think the struggle started when I realize  motherhood equaled a permanent sleep deficit – which was probably about 24 hours after my journey of motherhood began.)

This particular struggle, though, was when my daughter was five, my older son was three, and the younger son nearly one year old. I vaguely remembered writing something about it, something I know I didn’t post as I didn’t have a parenting blog at the time. I looked through my parenting folder and found it:

It just wouldn’t go away, the self incriminating sentence that played over and over in my mind: you’re a horrible mother. I couldn’t do anything to justify myself because the thought came from my own mind. What’s more, I felt it to be true.

Whatever happened to the manifold promises I made myself before I became a mother?

I will not raise my voice.

I will pray for my children every single day.

I will not lose my temper.

I will not judge until I hear both sides of every situation.

Now, after having been a mother for only six years, I find myself raising my voice on a regular basis, falling to sleep some nights without having committed my children to God in prayer, and telling my arguing children impatiently that I do not want to hear about it … I just want them to stop.

Obviously, I didn’t finish the thought that I had been writing about (maybe another of their arguments interrupted me). 🙂

And since that time, I have had pretty low moments as a mom. I hated my impatience with them, my frustration at the little mistakes they made, the fact that I was too busy sometimes too busy to give them the time they deserve and need.

A conversation I had with my mom at one of these times was a great help to me. Besides what I already wrote in a separate post about this conversation, my mom also mentioned something that acts as a healer in our relationships with our children:

Just say you’re sorry.

When you know you’ve overreacted to something your child did, or when you’re going through a busy season and not able to spend as much time with your child as you would like … just say sorry.

Explain why you overreacted, or why you were under pressure. Kids understand a lot more than we give them credit for.

They also forgive a lot more easily than we usually do.

Last week, I overreacted when my son did something he shouldn’t have done at the dinner table. It must not have been that big a deal, because I can’t even remember now what it was. But I remember my reaction was negative, and his reaction to my reaction was even worse. I managed to catch myself, though, and apologize.

“I shouldn’t have gotten upset about that. I’m sorry.” That was all I said.

He turned around and smiled real big. “It’s okay, mommy. I forgive you.”

What could have been a prolonged “battle of wills” turned into his trademark, “Hug, squeeze, kiss” … disaster averted.

We’re never going to be perfect parents. Sometimes we might feel like we’re pretty horrid ones, actually. But we really don’t have any choice than to keep trying our best.

And on the days we can’t even manage that, to not be afraid to say sorry and “I’ll try to do better next time.”

Beyond that, I believe the love we receive from our children, and the love we have for them, will fill in the gaps and make parenting worth every effort we put into it.

Sometimes a “hug, squeeze, kiss” from a child is all a parent needs to inspire them anew for the task.

I know it works for me.

[Image by © B. Hermann/zefa/Corbis]