Parenting: when you’re doing it wrong

I read somewhere that you’re not supposed to take your child’s behavior personally.  We’re not supposed to see the decisions they make or don’t make as a reflection of who we are.  After all, they are their own people.

But we all know this is bullshit.

How many times do we tell parents that they should be proud of who their children have turned out to be?  ”You know, great children are a sign of great parents,” we say.

Oh, but, don’t take it personally when your kid acts like a shit.

My kid?

Is acting like a first rate shit.

And I?

Am taking it personally.  Very personally.

I feel like a complete failure as a parent – and succeeding at anything else in life is meaningless in the face of failing as a parent.  The world cannot afford any more parenting failures.  Any other mistakes I make in this life are a blight on me and my life, but screwing up parenthood affects another generation.  Long after I’m gone, people will suffer because of my ineptitude.

And that’s not even the worst part.

Far worse than affecting faceless strangers in a hypothetical future is the knowledge that I am letting my child down.

I find myself second guessing decisions I made years ago.  Decisions to take this responsibility on, despite all evidence that suggested that I would be unfit.  Why had I not allowed someone more capable to step in for me?  Why had I let my own fiercely selfish love and pride keep this innocent child from a more qualified guide?

My skills are so lacking that I don’t even know what, exactly, I’m doing wrong.

Maybe I’ve yelled too much.  Maybe not enough.  Have I given too many rewards without enough thought?  I have I not tied consequence to deed appropriately?

Have I simply been a poor role model for how a person should behave?

Of course, that’s the most likely scenario, and the one that cuts the deepest.  He’s sarcastic and rude because I am sarcastic and rude.  His selfishness mirrors my own.  His all-consuming need to control is a natural and nurtured gift from me.

I’d be lying if I said that I was simply disappointed in myself.  I am also angry.  Not at me, but at the child who magnifies all of my shortcomings and refuses to bend to my will.  I’m angry at him because I’m ashamed of myself.  And that’s all well and good and almost understandable, but the bottom line is that I am angry.  At a child. I’m angry at my child.

Good mothers are not angry with their children.  Or disappointed.  Or ashamed.  Or embarrassed at how their children behave in front of others.

I know good mothers.  I hear them try to sound humble when they politely respond “oh, thank you,” to the endless compliments about their children.  I see them quietly handle some issue that no one else was even aware existed before sending their little angels back out to play.

Good parents don’t show their frustrating and they don’t have to apologize.  They don’t bristle at the realization that other adults are annoyed by their children’s behavior.

I want – have always wanted – so badly to be a good mother.  I am a person who wants lots of things, and there is nothing I have ever wanted as fiercely as I have wanted to be a good parent.  And yet here it seems that wanting is not enough.  Wanting and reading and instinct and all the shit they tell you will help is not, come to find out, enough.

Ten years into parenting and I still haven’t got a clue what I’m doing, but I am absolutely certain I’m doing it wrong.

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