In Which I Confess My Worst Parenting Crimes

Parenting-is-hard

I’m sounding off right now. It’s not my usual subject matter. But it’s important.

I saw thousands of judgy comments, attacking the mother last month, when the gorilla in the zoo was shot by zoo staff when a 4-year old somehow got into its enclosure. The meme that circulated on the internet said:

“I don’t know why they shot me. I was taking better care of the kid than the mother was.” Thousands of comments supported the meme, and raged at the mother as neglectful and abusive and a lousy mom.

And then hundreds of condemning comments when the mom in Florida, who lost FOUR daughters when a tire blew out, in her 8-seater car carrying 11 people. On her birthday. I’m sure the family was enjoying Memorial Day together, and now four children from the same family are dead.

And the first paragraph of many of the news stories announced, “The mother driving the car has not been charged yet.” And I have no idea what purpose is served by saying the mother whose little one got into the enclosure should have to pay for the gorilla’s death.

She’s guilty of doing what every parent of every 4-year old does, often: taking her eye off him, for a minute. She’s not guilty of, or responsible for, the death of a prized captive animal.

The mother driving with at least 3 people not in seatbelts is guilty of probably not being able to afford a bigger car. And maybe driving on bald tires.

Probably for the same reason–poverty. What other crimes would we like her to be guilty of–manslaughter?

How does this serve? We need someone to blame, someone to pay?

My private theory is that the reason so many parents want to throw other parents under the wheels of the bus, and judge–is that it makes us feel superior for a moment. Because if you’re a parent, you feel guilt. Every. Damn. Day. Parenting is the hardest gig ever.

It’s a long-haul job, with absolutely no guarantee of any payback, and if you’re doing it alone, without help, as I’ve done for almost 8 years– -and if your kids are teens and young adults–well, I feel your struggle and would love to carry your burden with you a bit, if I can.

At a minimum, I want you to feel my support.

Oh, how we fail our kids. Right now, I’m going to confess my worst sins. Because I want to see what happens. When I make a confessional of my ugly secrets. I don’t believe for one second that other parents haven’t committed crimes against their kids. Before I even get started with my own personal litany, I want to say that I love my four kids so much it hurts.

Parents: Let's Ease Up on Each OtherI was disenfranchised from one of my kids, a couple years ago, and a friend of mine brought a big sports photo of that particular kid, that she got at the high school from the athletic trophy case they were cleaning out.

I literally dropped to my knees and burst into tears, looking at it, just from the squeeze on my heart, thinking how much I love this human whose DNA is half mine. Like no other people on the planet, I love my kids.

And I absolutely know that mama took her boy to the zoo because she loves him. I know that mama driving an overloaded car in Florida– -she loved hers, too.

I loved my children since before I knew them. I spent 5 years in infertility testing and treatment. Lost several in miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies, including one member of a set of twins.

You’d think that would make me a perfect parent, if there is such a thing. That I went through so much loss, expense, so many tears–to bring my children into the world. But you’d think wrong. I woke up every morning, for years, pinching myself that I got to be a mom. I was so happy. Raising those four little kids, all born in August, all born in less than 7 years–these were some really happy years of my life.

I loved every minute of the baby phase. I adored raising toddlers. I loved kids in school, founding their charter schools and volunteering there a lot, giving the teachers healthy snacks for them, making all their food, teaching them to garden, teaching them piano lessons, weekly visits to the library and reading charts with rewards, summer camp co-op with other moms, taking them to Europe and on humanitarian trips. I love teens, with their friends in and out all day, yelling, “Hey Mama!” And now, I think it’s amazing to see my babies Adulting.

I was taught that my main and almost my only function on the planet was to bear and raise children. And while I don’t really embrace that philosophy any more, I do feel that having my babies was the most purposeful and joyful thing I’ve ever done, and their childhood years were some of my happiest. I absolutely loved being a stay-home mom, working from home.

And still. My crimes against them. Here we go. Feel free to share one or more of YOUR crimes. I intend for this to be cathartic.

And, I hope to have this be a message of begging for mercy from each other, if anyone reads it. It takes a village, and the village has to be accepting and nurturing of parents in general, even and especially the flawed ones. So we have less shame about our mistakes.

1. It starts with their father. I was married very young, and am not married to him anymore. Not only did I divorce my kids’ dad, which deeply wounded them all. But also, one time in a fit of rage, when I was old enough to know better, I got several of his beloved, well-preserved baseball hats out of closet, where they took up a whole shelf, perfectly organized. And I cut them in half. It’s truly the meanest thing I’ve ever done. I also, in our first year of marriage, spiked a box of ice cream on the kitchen floor, when he came home from the store with the wrong one. I’m sorry I used to indulge in excesses of anger. This is a terrible example to my kids, the oldest of whom is getting married soon.

2. Once I lost not only my own kid, but my cousin’s kid, whom I was homeschooling, at the public library. The library staff and I spent over an hour searching, before we found them hiding behind a car in the parking lot. I was hysterical, wracking my brain for how to tell my cousin, who was in chemo treatment for cancer, that instead of helping her keep her daughter out of the germy school–I actually lost her. I wish I could say this is the only time I lost a kid. But it’s not. One time Tennyson wandered away from home, at age 4, and was found later by the police wandering the halls of the junior high school nearby, as I was hysterically running all over the neighborhood. Luckily he had a green helium balloon tied to his wrist that day, so he was rather easy to locate.

3. I made Cade take Suzuki piano lessons, and I was a total drill sergeant, sitting with him to practice every day. I made him hate piano. He also hated his preschool, when he was 3, and I made him go every morning anyway, telling myself, “My kid isn’t gonna be a quitter!” I deeply regret this—he started kindergarten hating school. I wish I had 20 more years’ experience and wisdom, back then, so I would have made better choices.

4. I thought I was helping my kids, by quitting my corporate career and starting a business I could run from home. But the downside was, so many times I’d be deep in a writing project, or on a phone call, when one of my children wanted to come in and talk to me. I’ve reacted with annoyance, or pushed them off till later, more times than I can count. I can be really selfish, and obsessed with getting stuff done on my list. I hope my kids will forgive me.

5. I was raised with spankings, and I spanked my kids. I justified it with, “Sometimes kids need immediacy.” But sometimes I did it when immediacy wasn’t important, and sometimes I did it in anger. Till Tennyson was 7, and I announced to everyone one day, “I don’t spank anymore.” Love and Logic classes had taught me that kids who are hit just become avoidant and aggressive. I’m sorry I ever did this, and if I could go back, I wouldn’t spank, ever.

Yellowstone Emma PetraI’m sure I could go on all day. But I did try to give you REAL crimes, not things that subtly just “show off.” These things I did? They pretty much suck, and there’s no gloss you can put on them to excuse them. Except just being rather human, and often lame.

Thanks for reading, and I’d love for you to share your thoughts. If you want to judge my parenting, bring it on.

But in general, towards each other, I hope we think about Jesus’ counsel to those outraged by the sins of the “woman caught in adultery:”

“Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone.”

The funny thing is, those unicorns out there, the “perfect parents?” I do know a few. (Obviously I’m not one of them.)

My former sister-in- law, Kelli, comes to mind. Thoughtful, kind, patient, fun, service-oriented, loving–and her kids are turning out just like her. (“The proof’s in the pudding.”) They’re quick to offer to help, they’re even-tempered, they’re kind, they get A’s in school and excel in extra-curricular activities.

Literally, she’s one of the most perfect people I know, my former husband’s sister. My kids spend a lot of time over there, just two miles away, and I’m glad.

But it isn’t those perfect parents out there I see throwing rocks at other parents! Interestingly, it seems to be people like me. The flawed. The sinners.

And about the public dialogue on parenting, I think we should reserve the word “abuse” for when it’s actually abuse. Otherwise, it gets watered down, and then we don’t have a word for that tiny minority of parents who chain their kids to cinderblocks in the basement, or call them ugly names or beat them.

The word “abuse” gets so overused these days. I see it used often, when it just doesn’t apply. Parents who are looking the other way, fussing with a camera, tending to another child, and their kid somehow ends in the clutches of a gorilla?

Not abusive. Not even neglectful. Just another day in the life of a parent, that ended in a tragedy. Life is freaky sometimes.

May you all continue on, in your parenting, gaining more wisdom and patience by the day.

May we extend mercy to each other. We are none of us without sin. To all the parents out there, Namaste. Let’s support each other better.

35 thoughts on “In Which I Confess My Worst Parenting Crimes

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  1. Thank you for this post! I agree that we all need to come from a place where we believe other parents are trying hard and doing their best! I never imagined that I would be a single mother. Even though I am a widow and not divorced, I have so much more compassion for anyone who is single parenting because it is hard!

    I’m pretty sure I have banished all memories of the terrible things I did as a mother because I know they happened, I just can’t remember them right now.

    None of us is perfect… even though some people seem perfect… And if we are willing to just help and support each other, the criticisms would cease and the well-being of our children would increase. Namaste!

    1. katherine, i’m sorry you lost your hubby. can’t imagine. but we just keep on keepin’ on. god bless you. XO

  2. Robyn Openshaw, I ADORE you! I will fall off my chair if anyone writes a mean comment. You’re on my mind every day bc I owe you some mold pics 🙂 You’d either laugh or cry if you knew why I hadn’t sent them yet. I’d love to write more, but I am getting ready for a doc’s appt….NOT what I want to be doing. You are an amazing woman and mom. And I have no doubt that your kids WILL rise up and call you blessed. I just think you’re still in one of the hardest phases of parenting. When I think of how I treated my nearly perfect mom when I was in my teens and early twenties….I want to cry and go back and do it over again. I can’t, but I can tell her every day now how much I love her, and I do. I’m 45. Not sayin’ you have to wait that long! I started being nice to her a long time ago 🙂 I haven’t been blessed with children yet, so I can’t comment from that perspective. xoxo

    1. You’re sweet, Cindy. I remember my mom saying to me, when I was going through major infertility, for years, “Your trial in life is not having children. Mine is having them.” LOL. (p.s. I didn’t think it was that funny at the time.)

      1. don’t know entirely about the ray of sunshine. I once threw a good punch at my husband. (That didn’t go over so well). I have a friend who dumped a bucket of ice water over her husband’s head when he was taking a nice hot shower with his eyes closed. I liked your hat story. Not sure who wins the prize here… 🙂

        1. See, I’m not the only confessional here. That’s another thing…..when you’re divorced, everybody tells you their stuff. Not many of us get through life without some ridiculous excesses and stories! At least it makes for entertainment.

  3. Thank you Robyn! What a great perspective..why are we so quick to judge each other? I am going through an unexpected difficult time with my 18 year old daughter. It is painful and challenging at times to raise kids…every phase of their lives brings something new and wonderful…or really challenging to cope with. Some people, like your ex sister in law, seem to really be naturals at parenting. How I envy those people. I, on the other hand, love my kids dearly but I feel like I am fumbling and bumbling along. I learn from it, but sometimes I feel like my kids suffer from my inadequacies! Understanding and support goes a long way from our peers. Thanks again for your post.

    1. Kimberly, hang in there. It seems to get a lot better around 19! Not that my experience with 2 daughters is anything predictive, but that’s been my experience. thanks for weighing in, XOXO, you got this.

  4. Really really awesome post! I have been thinking the same thing about this poor family who must have been traumatized by watching their son dragged around like a rag doll by a gorilla and then were shamed for it. I have two boys. It is easer to judge when you don’t have kids because you have NO IDEA, but when you DO – give it a rest. It is so challenging. And’s it’s been the best best thing I’ve ever done. I’m with you, I am so blessed to have had these kids choose me to be their mom and it’s my greatest pleasure. But sometimes, I want to lay down a spank. I think what I feel most bad about are the times I yell or just have the exasperated voice on. I think later that they just don’t deserve to be talked to that way. Taking more time out for myself and giving myself breaks helps me a lot. Thank you!

  5. Today I felt like the failure parent when I taught my primary lesson. We all have moments of weakness it’s because we are human. It’s nice to know you are still the same Robin that I knew over 20 years ago. Life is fragile and relationships are important. I am so happy to say at one time in my life I worked just a few doors down from you. You are so intelligent and wise in fact you are the reason I became a home owner 21 years ago. Life is hard thanks for sharing.
    Best wishes,
    Sharie

  6. Robyn – I’m better off for having read this. Thank you! I’m guilty of throwing rocks and making bad parenting choices. I need to cut others some slack and remember to always support rather than criticize. Also… Your kids will forgive you!… And I hope my kids will forgive me! I know all the grievances I had with my own parents all melted away when I had kids of my own, started making dumb mistakes, and realized this parenting thing is much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be.

    1. Steffanie, I’ve not heard from you in forever! One of my first-ever employees! And students! How many babies, now, and how old?? So, that’s really good humility and awareness. Thing is, at the ages of your little ones, it’s so easy to throw rocks. When they are ferociously independent, think you’re stupid, and make some lousy choices, starting at about age 15 (earlier if you’re not lucky)….it’s incredibly humbling, and you stop throwing the rocks because you’re just hoping nobody throws one at you! It’s been the best refiner’s fire, ever, parenting. What a learning opportunity.

      I was in the grocery store once when my first child was 6 months old. For some reason, he screamed in grocery stores. We were in Produce and he was screeching and pointing towards the plastic bags. I tore one off and handed it to him. Was I aware that this is a bad, dangerous thing to do, let your baby play with a plastic bag? Yes. Feeling rather desperate and jangled, after an entire shopping trip while he screamed, I figured, I’m right here, and should it go into his throat I’ll just pull it out.

      I was checking out and I noticed the lady behind me was absolutely glaring. I remember thinking to myself, “Yeah. I’d have judged me, too. Six months ago.” She didn’t know my situation, how desperate I felt, nor the fact that I’d never let him play with a plastic bag out of my sight. I remember thinking, this is a good lesson to me—abuse is abuse, of course, but a lot of what we judge other parents for, we just don’t really know the whole story.

      We’re all perfect parents till our kids hit 13.

  7. I truly enjoyed this article and want to add my AMEN to it! My confession…I dropped my son off at school (kindergarten) after chastising him for missing the bus and making him feel guilty for making me late for work (which wasn’t his fault). I got a call from my husband 2 hours later saying someone had brought him home because it was a holiday. No School. I cried and left work a basket case.

  8. Just yesterday I lost my son again. He has Down syndrome and prone to escape. We are very careful to keep watch on him! He is 13 and improving, but we always need to know where he is. At home, we need to make sure he is not messing with his brothers’ things. Big brother left to help with VBS. My son lingered at the door. He finally closed the door and came in. Twenty minutes later I’m noticing how quiet it is in the house. Time to see what he is up to. Sister is looking at books. Where is he? I searched the house five times. Did I actually see him come in and close the door? I’m sure I did, maybe not. Time to call 911. The police arrived and searched inside the house first. The officer asks me if there are other children in the house? His sister is. Who is in the top bunk? I see my sleeping missing son! What?! How did he get there?

    Embarrassing! The officer just said, that’s why we always check the house first! In all the times we have lost him and called police for help, he was not in the house. So, was I neglectful? He just wanted a nap.

  9. Thank You Robyn for your bravery!!!! I have had similar thoughts but I tend to be afraid to write/post on the internet for the shear fact that people are so okay with attacking each other verbally because there is a disconnect of human connection. For some reason if we were face to face we would not say some of the things we write/post. The media seems a very unsafe place and when I hears something I try to stay open minded and see it from all perspectives and assume I don’t know all the details, not just the one the media or person telling me.

    I am a divorced mother of three and I to have made my own mistakes. I wonder on a daily basis, am I a good mother and how can I be better? I failed my kids by leaving their father and causing them much pain and suffering. I have even made the apology to my kids and we have openly discussed how I am to blame and I beg their forgiveness for my mistakes. I will say I am happier, healthier, and stronger now.

    I have also lost one of my kids momentarily in a public palce. It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember the specific, but I tried to remember not to be angry with my son for not following my directions and wondering off. I only wanted him to feel love and how grateful I was he was okay. But I did take my eyes off him and it just takes a second for kids to see something that sparks their interest.

    My youngest son is my hardest. I have probably made a billion mistakes raising him. He challenges me because he shuts down when he is mad and he never wants to talk about what is upsetting him (from age 2-10 he would scream and cry in public in totally random times, people would approach us and try to help, which just made him scream louder). I never really knew what caused him to act this way. I don’t hit my kids, but people would say you need to spank him. I never did, I was spanked as a kids and remember how awful it made me feel. Just couldn’t do that to my own children. Homework is to frustrating for him and his teachers/counselors have done testing. They have bent over backwards working with him. We are still on this journey together and I am sure there is something I am missing. But I will keep loving him and exploring new ideas to help him, because I love him!

    Like most, we are all guilty of something. We really do have to change our vision for the future! Try to be positive and remember to leave every conversation like it’s your last. Life can be take in a matter of seconds….

  10. Robyn I love your realness, openness and willingness to “go there.” I too have been so distraught reading hateful judgments made about parents who have suffered unimaginable tragedies recently. I hope these haters never have to experience even 1/1000th of the pain these parents have suffered. We all do the best we can. I’m a single mom by choice, and when I chose to have a baby — she was not an accident, she was very much planned — I did so with the conviction, the absolute certainty, that I was going to be the best damn mother on the planet.

    Sound familiar? I had no help, no support, no family nearby, no friends nearby, a full-time stressful job involving travel, and you best believe my list of crimes is quite impressive. One that I am particularly ashamed of took place when my daughter was in early elementary school. After years of unrelenting insomnia (I know you can relate …), my doctor prescribed sleep meds so I could finally sleep. Those sleep meds were crazy effective, and I slept so hard that waking up in the morning was agony.

    So it came to pass that my little 7 year old managed to wake herself up every morning at 6:30, get herself dressed, make her own breakfast, gather up her school stuff and walk herself in the dark to the bus stop to catch the bus that would take her to school, while I lay in a drug-induced coma until around 7:30 or so, when I could finally drag myself out of bed. This went on for about a year until the day my daughter cried to me that it’s lonely in the morning and she wished that I was awake to see her off. The devastation I felt upon fully realizing how I had failed her, every weekday morning for an entire year, still stings, and 15 years later, I am still apologizing to her for my temporary madness. And for other crimes, too numerous to relate.

    She is Adulting now (love that word), and every so often, she likes to tell me I did a good job with her, I did just fine, she is good. What a blessing. My prayer is that all mothers, all parents, do the best they can for their children, have the humility to recognize their own imperfect parenting, and realize that but for the grace of God …

    1. thank you for sharing this! and for being real. and for hanging in there and doing the best you could for your daughter! XOXO

  11. Once when my daughter was about 5 or 6, I took my 3 kids to the park. My younger boys wanted to play on the playground, and there was a stream/river nearby that I let my daughter go play around in. She was a little ways away, but I could still see her, so I figured she’d be fine. An older lady came up to the playground steaming mad and asked whose daughter that was. I said she was mine and this lady said something like, “She’s playing in the water down there without her shoes and the water is running pretty fast! You’d better watch your kids, lady.”

    I honestly didn’t know the stream was as full as it was, and I wouldn’t have let her go down there if I couldn’t see her. Sometimes it’s really hard to keep track of, and keep happy (when they all want to do different things), a bunch of kids! I have 5 now, and it’s not getting any better! 🙂

    As for my other sins, they’re too numerous to count. Each one of my children has been challenging and made me stretch in ways that I don’t want to, sometimes. (Except the baby…she’s perfect, haha!) I wish that I was the perfect mom and never lost my patience, and never yelled, and had never spanked a child. I have to remind myself that although I’m not perfect, I am trying, and I am a lot better at some things now, than I was a few years ago. Hopefully that progress continues.

  12. Thank you Robyn. We cry ourselves to sleep over our parenting failures, but admitting them to anyone else? That would be harder than forgiving ourselves.

    1. Or maybe admitting where you were wrong is actually a step in forgiving yourself. I am not sure I am ready for either.

      I will admit to some things that the haters would call neglect, but those aren’t my real crimes.

      I lost my youngest more times than I am even sure if I can remember. Once when she was about 3 she sat delighted in a police car while we frantically searched the neighborhood for her. He had found her crossing the busy street near our house. Another time she walked to Grandma’s house in her swimsuit. When she was in kindergarten she woke up early one morning and didn’t wake me just got dressed and walked to the school. I was awoken by the phone ringing and the principle asking me to come get her. Two hours early is just too early. But she didn’t escape just from me. One time we left her sleeping with a sitter and went out for a late night meal. When we got home after midnight, she was sitting on the porch, waiting for us. I have forgiven myself for these things, because she survived them and she is now a great, but still wildly independent teenager.

      But for me the real crimes aren’t those momentary thinking of something besides my escape artist child, sort of mistakes. The real crimes are the life choices I made while thinking only of myself, and not of them. The choices where I chose not to think of the long term consequences on them.

      Those are the crimes I am not ready to admit or be forgiven of, other than to say they exist, and to admit wholeheartedly that I am NOT perfect and try to offer all other parents the benefit of the doubt, because I KNOW how hard it is.

      1. Demi, that’s exactly it. My momentary lapses, anyone could do. It’s my intentional sins that I’m really confessing here, and as you’ve said, it’s penitence and wanting to be forgiven.

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