Have you ever gone against your gut as a parent and regretted it?
I did and I felt like I was failing at parenting by letting down those I love most.
Time and time again I put the needs of others ahead of those of my family ― because of my inability to speak up, my desire to not rock the boat and my need for approval. It had to stop and it finally did, but not without a tough lesson.
It was the Labour Day weekend in September a couple of years ago. My friend from out of town had called on Thursday to share her last-minute plans of visiting with her husband and two little ones. I knew my husband was already making plans for us to go away but I felt like I couldn’t say no. I wanted to be a good host and said she could stay with us without even consulting with my husband first. As the sole breadwinner back then, he never took days off and the long weekends were the only time we had more than a couple days together. I should have said we were making plans or at the very least talked with my husband. I did neither.
So, we spent the weekend hosting and we were exhausted. Although I had known this friend for years, I struggled with the relationship for just as long. I felt that we just couldn’t understand each other and our conversations often left me emotionally drained. The weekend together only made this more obvious. Finally, on the last day of the long weekend I learned the hard way things needed to change.
“You need to come back here now,” my husband said on a phone call he made just minutes after I left him canoeing on a lake reservoir close to our home. I had gone home to quickly grab a stroller so I could go for a walk with my baby while my husband was on the water with my then three-year-old daughter.
I knew instantly something was wrong. My heart hammered in my chest as I drove back to the canoe lodge in a panicked haze. I quickly put the bucket seat with my baby in it on to the stroller and ran wildly. I screamed as I entered the canoe rental area. I don’t even know what I said to the teenaged boy that looked at my outburst nonchalantly. He pointed to the back area where I saw my daughter wrapped in blankets and my husband drenched and dripping wet.
“I’m okay, Mom,” my three-year-old whispered.
I knew it was a bad idea. I knew it, but it was a sunny day, the lake was calm and I told myself nothing could possibly go wrong. Even though inside I felt my gut telling me otherwise.
My friend wanted to take her toddler and preschooler canoeing. As good hosts we escorted them to the canoe rental shop but with a young baby had decided not to join them. Of course, my three-year-old daughter saw them gearing up and wanted to join in so my husband reluctantly agreed to take her.
He knew better and so did I. We both hadn’t been canoeing in over a decade and the young worker at the canoe rental shop didn’t seem overly concerned about the weight difference that may cause the canoe to flip.
We were lucky – everyone was wearing life jackets.
But I felt like a failure. I had gone against my instincts and remorse hung on my heart like a ton of bricks.
It wasn’t easy to overcome my feeling of utter failure. But I started the painstakingly slow process of trying to forgive myself.
I let myself feel all of it. All of the ugly parts of it. I dwelled on the pain, the hurt and the guilt. I let myself feel angry at my stupidity. I let myself cry. I left myself cuddle and hug my daughter and reassure her she was safe all evening and for days to come. I beat myself up.
Then I took a cold hard look at myself and my actions. How did it get to the point that I went against my parental instincts?
I realized that I disregarded my feelings and those of my husband for the sake of pleasing others.
I realized that my lifelong struggle with not being able to speak up was negatively affecting my family.
I realized that the long-term friendship I equally cherished and struggled with was over and had been for a long time.
In time, I came to accept what happened but I vowed that I wouldn’t let my internal struggles affect my family again. Sure, my daughter or husband weren’t hurt beyond the shock of being plunged into extremely cold water but I was.
I was living a life and behaving in a way that wasn’t being true to me. And it wasn’t the first time either. I had left my husband alone on his birthday to meet a last-minute family obligation. I took my then almost one-year-old daughter for a three-hour drive to do just that while my husband celebrated alone.
And there were more similar incidents.
I realized what my true values were as a mother, a wife and a woman.
Speaking my truth even when others wouldn’t understand.
Standing up for myself when I learned the exact opposite.
Putting boundaries in place even with those closest to me.
This was tackling years of conditioning. Years of expectations placed on me. Years of doing what I should do. Years of being the good girl.
I didn’t want to be the good girl anymore.
So I made the difficult decisions to be who I wanted to be and not who I was expected to be.
I ended a unhealthy friendship I had struggled with for years.
I protected my family time by saying no to obligations for the sake of etiquette and appearances.
I built a new network of friends who are truly supportive of me.
Finally, I achingly forgave myself.
I knew that my old self versus my new self had been waging a war inside me for some time and soon came the tipping point. I learned the hard way that my old beliefs and behaviours weren’t serving me anymore.
It was time to change. So, I took a hard look at myself and made the change.
I rest easy knowing that when I felt I almost failed at parenting, I gained the most valuable insight of all ― how to truly be the best parent I could be.
So do this when you feel like you’re failing at parenting.
Stand strong in your own truth. Know who you are, who you want to be and stand up for your values. Friends may change, family may be disappointed but you’ll be able to sleep at night.
Honour your feelings even the hard, ugly ones. Our feelings are there for a reason. And they’ll let us know if we’re on the right track or if we’ve fallen off it.
Trust your inner guidance. As parents we know what’s best for our kids. So even when everything appears to be okay on the surface, if it doesn’t feel right to you don’t do it.
Protect your family time. Some people including friends and family won’t understand that your priorities have shifted after having kids. They might still expect you to drop everything to be there for them or do everything you used to do. Or you might feel like I did, that you should still be there for everyone as you once were. Things have changed and so have you. Learn how to say no and put boundaries in place for your well-being and that of your family.
Forgive yourself. We’re not perfect and no matter how prepared we think we are to be a parent ― we will never be ready for everything that will be thrown our way.
Most of all, know that you did your best back then but you know better now. And you will do better Mama.
Have you had any parenting fails? What has the experience taught you?