I took this photo months ago. It made me think of light shining through in the midst of dark and uncertain times. I also thought of forgiveness. Sometimes it takes just a shift, even a small one, to let the light peek through. Once it does, more possibilities bubble up, even from a sea of darkness. The evening of this sunset, I was specifically thinking of people in my life that I needed to forgive. Not necessarily to bring them back into my life, but to let go.
Today, however, after having some crazy, intense moments with my kids, I realize that forgiveness needs to be extended to myself. I need to be as forgiving of myself for not being a perfect parent, as I am of others. Why is that so hard for me to do?
As a single parent, I’m destined to have my fair share of more bad days to come. That’s just life. Parenting young children is hard for anyone—and days like yesterday and today evolve like emotional hurricanes leaving me breathless, exhausted and in a shell-shocked state of self doubt.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I just have to surrender to this life. Weekends are tough. And it’s not because I don’t want to hang with my boys. It’s actually because I do—and I have high expectations that get dashed. I am not in control of how my days will go.
And maybe I’m in this position because I’m trying too hard? Maybe I don’t have to let my oldest son do so many activities? Maybe I need to be tougher with both of them? Right now, it’s hard to figure it out because, honestly, I’m bone tired. But what parent of young kids isn’t?
When a child tantrums over and over again, it’s almost impossible to find a sense of peace or calm or reassurance that everything will be okay. For instance, yesterday my four-year-old hit me. Today, he spit on me when he didn’t get what he wanted and yelled “I hate you!” None of this makes sense. He’s a four-year-old now acting like a two-year-old. It was exhausting. And there’s no need to go into all the ugly details and analyze whether I chose the right consequences for his bad behaviors. (There were many more, including stabbing furniture, hitting big brother and throwing apples…sigh…) But trust me, I don’t need to dissect the situations any further. I’ve already done it numerous times in my head.
Of course, I punished him. No, I didn’t hit him—although I wanted to. But what stayed with me, like a poisoned stone in my gut, was guilt. I worried about everything from whether this poor child has ADD, or whether he just needs a father, or whether I’m tough enough, consistent enough, loving enough, etc. … It’s exhausting and I’ve been through enough already.
It’s time to let go of this self-critical voice in my head fueling guilt. I’ve been riddled with guilt my whole life for not doing everything perfectly. It doesn’t help that I’ve been a parenting editor and have read so many parenting theories and books. It seems to add to the continuous doubting voice in my head and ensures that I never give myself a break. When really bad behavior erupts, I start second guessing everything I do and this voice lays into me like a nagging family member.
My ex used to jokingly call me “Mary Poppins: Perfect in Every Way.” He’d say it in a silly voice when making fun of me while I was in the throws of creating the perfect party invitations or painting our son’s nursery … I threw myself into parenting my oldest son. I admit, my world did revolve around his every milestone for quite a while. Now, I’m just winging it and every day doesn’t work out the way I’d like. But I’ve been doing this solo gig for almost 4 years and I need to forgive myself for not always doing everything exactly right. I don’t always respond immediately and firmly. Sometimes I yell. But I consistently say I love you. I consistently say I’m sorry when I yell. I consistently keep trying. It’s okay that I can’t do it all.
I ran across this wonderful post “To Parents of Small Children, Let Me Be The One Who Says It Outloud” by Steve Wiens. I loved it. I feel it. And what it says to me, as a single mom, is that forgiveness is crucial.
So, today was a bad day. At times, I wanted to throw in the towel. But you know what? I never will. And that is finally something to be proud of.