What if You Really ARE a Bad Parent?

What if you really ARE a bad parent? Your friends tell you that you’re not. Though they would seem to have little to base the declaration on. They don’t see the choices you make everyday for your children. The defeatism and anger you model, the food you don’t cook, the friends you don’t screen, and the television you don’t regulate. The dentist appointment you forgot about for two years.

And even if you kid has obvious issues, the world has supplied a diagnoses for all of them. Diagnoses that take the fault away from you. As much as our culture has grown sensitive to racial and sexuality issues, it’s nerves are even more sore around mothering.

If your boy is mean, he has aggression and and anger management issues, perhaps detachment disorder. If your girl doesn’t do her homework because you gave her an iPhone to calm her unbearable hyperactivity, she has an attention deficit. If your boy barely talks, asks the same five questions all day long and daily has a melt down when he can’t have chicken nuggets, he is delicately placed somewhere on “the autism spectrum.”

It’s not your fault, or your children. You’re a good mother.  

Of course your friends might think different when they go home. Sometime we suspect those disorders didn’t form spontaneously. They were nurtured into existence by a parent’s neglect, selfishness, and bad choices.

“Of course that kid is messed up! His father is an asshole and his mom has a different boyfriend moving in every six months.”

“Giving an iPhone to a ten year old so you don’t have to DEAL with her? Because she’s irritating? Hello, that’s called ‘parenting’!”

“He’s got some development issues or something. His mom took a lot of meds when she was pregnant with him. But it’s not like she’s down there trying to stimulate and teach him. She’s just happy he’s quiet.”

And not only that, the math needs to match up. We will face nearly every parent we know and tell them firmly that they are good parents. That can’t be. We know bad parents exist in multitude. We know because half our adult friends can’t stand being around their parents. From controlled irritation to completely cutting them out of their lives, we all have a friends who still resent the way they were raised. The handicaps their parents gave them that other children didn’t have to deal with.

Part of me shudders in relief when a friend says with determination, “You are NOT a bad mom!.” And part of me wants to lie my head in my hands and say, “Cite your source. Because I can cite LOTS of evidence to the contrary.”

Please, PLEASE cite your source. Please tell me the self-denial, extra work, discomfort, kindness and wisdom I’ve used. Prove to me it happened. Give me a list longer than the one that, though invisible, is clearly pinned to my child’s back. The selfishness, the indifference, the ignoring, the missed opportunities. Each one a heavy note, weighing down her stride.

We can’t all be good mothers. It just doesn’t add up. How do you know if you qualify?




One thought on “What if You Really ARE a Bad Parent?

  1. I have a long, LONG list of Things I Got Wrong. My girl is in her thirties, and I still sometimes – in those dark sleepless times – just can’t shake the memories of failures out of my head. But when I look at her I see a delightful young woman. She has her faults, and I can (must!) take responsibility for some of them … but for the most part, she’s a good person, with good values. And what gives me enormous relief is how often, when some memory has been particularly hounding me and I sit her down and tell her how sorry I am for screwing up, she gives me a blank look and says, “Really? I don’t remember!”

    I’m not saying it’s all unicorns farting rainbows, okay? But I did get some stuff right – quite a lot, as it turns out. I had her back when she needed me to, and when I could I made fun stuff happen. Turns out, that’s what she remembers.

    “We can’t all be good mothers,” you say. Why not? Fact is, most people are doing the best they can with what they have. Yes, there are abusers and narcissists and idiots – my own father was a control freak who hit me. But most of us are just ordinary people with limitations, doing the best we can. And most of the time when I hear people hating on their parents I have to wonder if it’s really the parents who were so bad. Sometimes maybe what’s needed is a little grace, a little tolerance, a little forgiveness for parental failings.

    Therese, I don’t know what kind of mother you are, but if you’re dissatisfied with the job you’re doing I would suggest that you’re pointed in the right direction.


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