iStock_000018547652XSmall_stressed momA counselor once told me, “All parents make some mistakes, a lot of parents make many mistakes, and a few parents make horrible mistakes. When you make a mistake, how you repair that damage can be powerful in bonding with your kids.” I try to remember that when I’m beating myself up about having been impatient or short-tempered or unkind.

People without kids are horrified (okay, maybe that’s a little strong) that I would be unkind to my children. People who have their own kids are so much more compassionate about my weaknesses as a parent. If you’ve done the job, you know it pushes you to your absolute limit. Until I had kids, I had all kinds of opinions about parenting, and I was so sure I would do such-and-such or I would never do such-and-such. Then when I got my kids, I was horrified (really, not too strong) that I lost my temper, was impatient, or acted unkindly at times. I remember thinking after the first six months, “Okay, now that the first six months are over, I won’t be impatient, short-tempered or unkind.”  Then after the first year, I thought, “Okay, now that the first year is over, I won’t be impatient, short-tempered or unkind. ” And it went on like this for a couple of years until I realized that even though I was trying my hardest, I was still impatient, short-tempered and unkind at times.

Now maybe there are actually parents out there who never lose their tempers or patience, or act unkindly toward their children. I’ve never met any, but I allow the possibility. Even my dad, who may have been the kindest, gentlest soul that ever walked the earth, had had enough of my sister one day when she kept pestering him about when he would be finished with whatever he was doing so he could play with her. “Three hours,” he finally snapped at her the last time she whined. Not exactly cause for Child Protective Services involvement, but coming from my dad, that was harsh.

Dr. Stephen Marmer, a psychiatrist and professor at UCLA, says we all get through childhood with “glitches.” He says parenting is the impossible job, and no one can do it perfectly. I finally had to admit that my children bring out all of my weaknesses, shine a big spotlight on them actually.
But for the job of mother, I could have gone on unperturbed in life, being the good person I am. Now thanks to my kids and the light they shine on my weaknesses–without even trying, the little darlings–I have the chance to dig deeper, to root out those undesirable impulses and behaviors in myself. It has been eight years now, and I’ve quit expecting myself to eliminate impatience, irritability or unkindness completely. Instead, I give myself credit for how much less frequent they are, and how much softer when they occur. Now I make it a game: Can I go a whole day without getting impatient, for example, no matter what? I actually made it yesterday and so far so good today.

When I mess up, I apologize sincerely and ask for my kids’ forgiveness. One of the beautiful things about kids is that they are so forgiving. Sometimes I think about my kids all grown up and parenting their own kids. If the day comes that they mess up and act unkindly toward their own kids, I hope they’ll remember that sometimes that happens in families, and it doesn’t mean the end of the world. I hope they’ll sincerely apologize to their kids and do their best not to let it happen again but accept that it might. I hope they’ll recognize that how they repair that damage can be powerful in bonding with their kids. I hope they’ll have compassion for themselves in doing the impossible job.

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