This post originally appeared as a blog on the Face It Movement to end child abuse website.
By Erin Warmbier
Being a parent is a lesson in “Things Not Going As Planned,” and also a lesson in “Being Humbled Around Complete Strangers.” When I think about times that I failed as a parent I honestly think “Boy! There are so many to choose from! Which one?”
- The time I was working the church nursery check-in desk when a total stranger brought my 2-year-old to me and said “Is this your kid? I found him wandering in the parking lot alone.”
- Or the time my son climbed on the stage at church and attempted to play drums while the pastor prayed the closing prayer and I crawled, pregnant and awkward, across the stage to drag him off.
- The time I fed my kid a super spicy pepper that I PROMISE I thought was just a mini bell pepper. (They looked exactly alike!) And the poor child ended up with his entire face burning from pepper juice.
- Or the time my 2-year-old slipped through the bars at the zoo and ran along the top of a 15-foot ledge over the giraffe exhibit?
No, as humbling and horrifying as these experiences were, I think the moment that I most lost my cool and lost my mind happened while I was pregnant with my 4th child and figured it would be an awesome idea to take my 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 1-year-old with me to choose seeds for our garden. By myself. At a store with no carts. Just before lunch time.
I had no idea that choosing soil amenders and seeds could take SO LONG. My children, of course, had no concept of the thoughtfulness and budgeting that goes in to selecting garden products and therefore were gleefully climbing over mulch bags, chasing mice under seed barrels, touching every beautiful plant, and twirling dangerously around glass yard ornaments as my irritation grew stronger and stronger. Because there were no carts, I only had the option of holding my squirming one year old, which left my 4- and 2-year-old free to play hide and seek among the aisles while I tried desperately to discipline, discuss, scold, corral…do whatever I could to keep myself sane while my seeds were being counted and bagged.
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally checked out. As we left, with a baby on my hip and the seeds in my hand, I opened the door for my 2- and 4-year-old to go out in to the parking lot before I realized: I was missing a 4-year-old! It took me only about 30 seconds to locate him and scold him in to coming out from his hiding place, but at that point, it was too late. While I was turning to deal with a gleefully disobedient 4-year-old, my 2-year-old had started walking straight into the busy street 15 feet away! A man and a woman in the car next to mine were yelling at me about their fears for my child’s safety, and the shopkeeper who just checked us out was looking on in horror. The next few moments were a blur, but there was definitely yelling and desperate arm grabbing and scrambling involved.
Now, thankfully, this event was infuriating and embarrassing, but my child survived his death wish walk in to traffic, and I was able to load all the purchases and children up in to the van. At which point I lost my MIND. I spent the 15-minute drive home sobbing, ranting, hurling shame at my kids, accusing them of being the worst sorts of children, and heaping all my fear and anxiety on their little shoulders. When we got home I placed the baby in the crib, sent my eldest children each in to a separate room with puzzles and books, and said something wonderfully kind between my clenched teeth like, “I don’t want to see your faces or hear your voices again until I call you to come eat lunch.” (OK, it wasn’t kind. But it was kinder than what I wanted to say.) I made myself a tea. I texted my best friends. I cried. I prayed. I made lunch. I ate lunch. I ranted on Facebook about how much I hate parenting in public. I remember saying that if anyone tried to pacify me and tell me that I was a good mom, I would punch them. And, finally, I took a deep breath and got my kids out of their bedrooms to feed them lunch and talk over the events of the morning with a calmer perspective.
When I got back on Facebook and answered my friend’s texts, I didn’t have people trying to assure me that I was a good mom. (My threat of punching people had scared them away from that tactic.) What I saw instead was a long, long list of women who were confessing their most horrible moments. The times they lost control of their kids. Or yelled. Or felt overwhelmed. Or the time one of their kids wandered off in Target and was found, having stripped naked, squatting to poop on the Target welcome mat. (True story, apparently.) My friends didn’t give me platitudes, but instead they told me truth: “This thing is HARD.” You will fail. Your kids will fail. But maybe it’s not just good for our kids to see us parenting on our best days. Maybe it’s also good for our children to see us melt down, and gather ourselves back up. Perhaps my kids won’t grow up and boast about what a gentle and patient mother they had. But maybe they will grow up and say that they saw me wrestle with my impatience and anger, and that I never gave up struggling against it, seeking forgiveness, reminding myself of grace, and reaching out for help when I need reminding.
Kentucky Youth Advocates is proud to partner in the Face It Movement to end child and to collaborate during April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The Face It Movement to end child abuse was conceived and created in 2012 as a response to the public outcry against the increasing number of child abuse deaths in the Commonwealth, and officially launched in April 2013 as an initiative led by Kosair Charities. Face It directly addresses the increasingly unacceptable number of child abuse deaths in Kentucky with the promotion of best practices in child abuse prevention and intervention, engaging the community, and advocating for effective policies to improve the child welfare system. Learn more at faceitabuse.org.