The Truth About Dropping the Ball as a Parent

The Kitchen Table


We live in a society that is quick to “shame” various groups of people. People are criticized over their body type, their sexuality, their political beliefs—pretty much anything it seems. In recent years, mom shaming has come to the forefront of this shame spiral. Everyone seems to have an opinion on exactly how women should raise their children, from what they feed them, to the kinds of diapers they choose—even to extremely personal decisions, like whether to breastfeed or not.

I don’t find any of this useful, and as such, I try to stay out of the fray as much as possible. And I’m not particularly hard on myself when it comes to parenting. My kids’ birthday parties usually happen a month after their actual birthdays. I don’t wake up at the crack of dawn to make a hot breakfast for my kids and then spend the next seven hours scrubbing the house till it shines. When other people express disapproval over how I’m raising my family, I do my best to shrug and move on, because hey, I’m the one who has to do this job.

But I do work hard to make my kids feel loved and important. I want them to feel valued and cherished and known. And last week, I really felt like I dropped the ball. I had a deadline for something for my daughter and it passed, and there was no way to submit the application late.

I wanted to cry. I’ve put forth a lot of effort this past year to take control of my schedule and to get my priorities in line, and this failure felt like a huge derailment from the progress I’ve made. I felt like I’d failed my kid. It felt like a million mom-shamers were coming at me, tearing me apart for my inadequacy. But they weren’t; it was just my own exasperated voice in my head, insisting that I should be a better mom.

Fortunately, I have sane people in my life who kindly reminded me that the world had not ended with one missed deadline. My daughter is smart and well-adjusted and thriving. She’s involved with sports and extracurriculars and has strong friendships. We’re raising her in a safe and loving environment, where she’s free to speak her mind and be her passionate, fiery self. She knows she’s fearfully and wonderfully made and that her life has meaning and purpose.

Reframing this one mistake I made into my grand track record as a mom was the key to stopping the onslaught of negative thoughts and self-shaming. I don’t think I even realize I had internalized so many of the world’s unachievable mom expectations until they all came hurtling at me from my own brain.

Here’s the truth about this: Parenthood isn’t about getting every single detail right. Our worth as parents isn’t based on whether or not we’ve met every deadline, attended every PTA meeting, or enrolled our kids in every possible extracurricular that might prepare them better for college. They are not going to fail life because we dropped the ball a few times. In fact, holding ourselves as parents to an impossible standard is worse for us all in the long-run. It leaves us burnt out and disappointed with ourselves, and that pressure is inevitably picked up by the very kids we’re trying to raise so perfectly.

What’s more important, I think, is that we do the best we can—while giving ourselves grace for the inevitable dropping of the ball. We’ve got to allow margin for mistakes, and for the week we get sick, and for the night at the end of the long week when we just don’t have it in us to do more.

If we can’t give ourselves grace, then our kids are going to perceive that perfectionism and internalize it for themselves. They’re going to see that when they can’t get it all done or get it all right, that all hope is lost. It’s a paralyzing way to live, and it’s so far from the grace-filled life of freedom that is meant for us.

So, if you’re like me and you don’t get this parenting thing right 100% of the time, give yourself a break. The point of this job isn’t to perform it perfectly and never make any mistakes. That is impossible, and frankly, nobody wants to live in that weird Stepford house anyway. The point is to embody love to our kids—to lead them well, to teach them grace, and to show them that life is about more than just living for themselves. If we can do that more often than not, then even if we drop the ball a bunch of times along the way, the kids will be okay.

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