I think it’s pretty safe to say that parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done and the hardest thing I will ever do in life. (Who’s with me?). Sure, there are challenges in work life and in friendships and in relationships, but when it comes down to it, where I feel the least equipped is in the department of parenting.
I’ve been doing this parenting thing for 4 years now, so you’d think I’d feel like I’ve got this under control even ever so slightly, but the thing is, is that none of the variables in parenting are ever controlled. Every 5 minutes is different from another 5 minutes. Just when you think you’ve got your morning routine mastered or your bedtime routine set in stone, your child enters into a new phase and everything feels backwards and upside down all at the same time.
It’s exhausting, and we parents often feel as if we’re going through life half asleep and hardly functioning. The thing is, when you’re not firing on all cylinders, accidents happen. Mistakes are made.
When you make a mistake at work, you own it and you fix it. When you make a mistake in a relationship, you apologise and move forward. But when you make a mistake with a young child, your mistake can feel like the weight of the world for them and at times, as a parent, it can feel like you’ve created irreparable damage.
I made one such mistake the other day with Portia, our extremely sensitive, highly spirited, beautifully emotional little 4 year old.
Portia woke up on this particular day, particularly emotional. Some days are like that. Some days are more charged than offers from the get go and I usually adjust to these mornings to meet her in the middle so that we can still enjoy our day. I just so happened to have woken up that particular morning particularly more drained and unrested. I didn’t have the energy to do any ‘meeting in the middle’.
It was silly what happened next, but the result was that a glass candle holder broke despite my repeated warnings not to touch it. Glass broke. No one was hurt. That’s the end of the story. Or, it should have been at least.
Instead, I allowed my temper to take over the situation and I yelled at Portia. I yelled so loud and so forcefully (and so unnecessarily, of course) that she just stared at me as her tiny blue eyes filled with tears.
My heart broke into twice as many pieces as the candle holder.
Why on Earth did I even care about that completely insignificant candle holder? I didn’t. It wasn’t a favourite of mine. It wasn’t a gift, even. I was just tired. And I made a mistake.
I apologised, but the damage had been done.
About a half hour later, Portia and I were driving in the car and I looked into the rear-view mirror to see her pale little face staring back at me. I asked her if she felt alright, and she didn’t. She told me she felt sick in her tummy. We had to stop the car. Portia was sick.
I didn’t relate this sudden sickness to our incident that morning, but what Portia told me when I asked her what she thought made her feel sick… is the moral of this story.
“I think I don’t feel so well because you yelled at me and it made me so sad”.
Oh. My. Heart.
You hear about emotional upset manifesting itself in physical form… and this was all the proof I needed to know that Portia does feel as deeply as we’ve always thought she does. She feels so deeply that my verbal actions affected her physically.
Am I a horrible mother? No. (Though I sure felt it that day). I made a mistake and I absolutely took a lifetime of lessons from that one experience that will stick with me in the face of our next frustrations as mother and daughter, but I will not hold onto the guilt that I felt that day.
Because look at the effects that emotional anguish can have on us.
An important reminder to us all.