Monday, August 16, 2010

Bad Mommy Chronicles

Like many of you, I did my best parenting before I had children. I was the one sitting on a plane by a harried mother with a cranky toddler, pursing my lips and thinking "can't she see how annoying her kid is being? It's really irritating the rest of us and it pisses me off that she doesn't even look upset!"

I was the one behind you in the grocery store, hoping my stare of disapproval was boring holes in your back as your 3-year old screamed "But I want to SEEEEEEEEE the bathroom!!!!  Why can't I SEEEEEE the bathroom?"  If that was MY kid, I'd give him a lesson he wouldn't forget!!!!"

And yes, that also was me thinking that if MY teenager acted that sullen, I'd ground her for a month. HELLO.

I could have given you so much good advice, if only you'd asked. Sometimes you didn't even have to ask, but seemed really offended when I offered a nugget of wisdom such as "why don't you hit him?"

My first nugget of understanding came when a friend told me about taking her young daughter shopping for a comforter. They spent some time window shopping and by the time they came to the comforters, sweet, loving daughter had morphed into the Bad Seed. "Well," I said indignantly, "I hope you didn't buy her a comforter!"

She said "Of course I bought her a comforter -- she NEEDED one. It would punish me, not her, if I took her home without one."  Wow -- what a concept.

It wasn't until the summer of 1999 that I really understood the concept of "if you threaten your kids, prepare to follow through."  My 2-year old daughter and I were at a pool as guests of another friend, who was raising three boys. We live in different towns so being together, was a real treat. (It still is.)

Everything was going swimmingly (get it? aren't I the punster!!!!!) until my daughter got tired and started whining and complaining. Instead of finding her some shade, comforting her and encouraging her to rest on a cozy towel in a lawn chair, I shouted at her "Do you want to go home?"

"Yes," she cried in a tiny, exhausted voice - TOTALLY the wrong answer -- she was supposed to beg to stay! This was not going the way I planned. I said in a mean voice, "Well, I don't! You better behave!"

As her face crumpled, so did I. In shame and guilt and remorse and mortification -- you get the gist. I was being a bully and threatening my baby. Good mommy took the reins, and I took her in my arms, begged forgiveness, found a nice spot where I could cuddle her to sleep, and we had a lovely day that stretched into evening.

When I have done something dreadful like that, I call or email my sisters and girlfriends and tell them what a horrible mother I've been. And they all e-mail me back with their stories. In this way, we know we're going to be okay, and our shameful actions don't fester inside us, causing us to feel even more inept than we sometimes feel. As one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott says, kids don't come with operating instructions. They are the best thing to happen to us, but their care and feeding is unrelenting and we sometimes crack.

One day I called a girlfriend and sobbed that I felt I yelled at my kids every day. The mother of four, she said "I feel good when I don't beat mine every day." Just the tone of her voice cheered me immensely -- she obviously didn't feel the need to call child protective services. (For the record, she does not beat her children. Although she thinks about it sometimes.)

One of my sisters had the best offering after some particularly bad parenting/martyrdom. I saved the emails.

My note to my sisters read:

Girls, I absolutely channeled mother today. The girls were just at each other's throats and I yelled in exactly mother's voice for them to "shut the hell up." I was hoping to get some things done at home and then do something fun. Then I started feeling really sorry for myself, and while I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom  floor, I was literally sniveling and taking these rather loud sniffs. Scary stuff..they are both taking naps now and I am trying to channel a good mother like Sarah Palin.

My sister's note:

Susie, oh, how I can feel your pain as far as becoming Mother goes. One of my finest moments was when (her kids) were maybe around 6 and 7. I had just stripped the old wax off the kitchen floor, scrubbed it and then rewaxed it. I was giving the two of them lunch, and, not one, but BOTH of them spilled their milk onto the clean kitchen floor while I was unloading the dishwasher. I had a handful of butter knives and when the second glass of milk went down, I started screaming and  throwing the knives, one at a time, into the dining room. I remember their sweet little faces looking horror-stricken. What really surprises me now is that neither of them even remembers the episode and it is indelibly inked into my brain! So, take heart, if you think you have become Mother! She really did have a hard job, didn't she?  And, she had to deal with Himself.

(I was the youngest of five, and to understand my dad and men like him, read or see The Great Santini by Pat Conroy. The scene with his son in the kitchen rang so true that I had to leave the movie for a few minutes.)

I offer my stories as a gift for those of you who might not share bad parenting stories for fear you'll be harshly judged -- we've all been there and sharing our pain is a great coping mechanism. And as my sister's story illustrates, our children forgive us so much easier than we forgive ourselves.

p.s. I heard a mother say that she yelled at her child once - that was her worst sin. If you have stories like this, we don't want to hear from you.

p.s.s. If you are a mother or are thinking of becoming a mother, read Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott.

p.s.s.s. Kids don't appreciate the whole martry concept -- they just think we are being dorks.


  1. Lord have mercy you are a mess and I love you!

  2. Love it! Sort of like when I would look at the boys in our playgroup (I was the mom of one of two girls in our group) and say "Gosh, they sure don't know how to control their kids." Then I had two boys many years later and people give me that nasty look ALL THE DANG TIME. Payback is not fun. :)

  3. The girls love to tell how with both of them, I had to hide in a closet one time (for each at different times)to keep from hitting them. They were both running up and down the hall screaming for me and I was wishing to be beamed up.