I lost it with my son today.

Not the little one. One of the big ones. One with whom I’ve worked so very hard to be understanding and patient. One who’s lived long enough to master the art of pushing my buttons. One—God help us all—so very much like me.

Yes, him. 

Just about the time I see glimmers of maturity and start to believe we might, in fact, survive this so-very-long season of parenting adolescents, something sinister and otherworldly takes over my body. I turn into a creature worthy of three heads and horns. And I understand, without reservation, why some animals eat their young.

So, yes, I blew it today. Utterly and completely. Hurt and frustrated, I said things I shouldn’t have said in a tone I shouldn’t have said them. What precipitated my outburst doesn’t really matter. I, the professed grown-up, turned into the two-year-old I accused my son of being. And, sadly, not for the first time.

Ugh. I hate it, hate it, hate it when I do that. When will I learn?

There are not words to describe how desperately I want to be a good mom. I want my children to grow up feeling loved and treasured. To be responsible, considerate, and generous adults. Even better if they end up the kind of adults who tattoo “I heart Mom” on a bicep and deliver a moving tribute to my fabulous mothering when accepting their first Oscar.

That mom.

Instead, I fear I’ll be the one they tribute in counseling sessions. The one they’ll hold responsible for their addictions, indiscretions, medications, and dysfunctions. The one to blame for their relational and occupational woes, and the name they’ll curse from their prison cells.

Perhaps I’m being over-dramatic.

There’s nothing I want to do well more than mothering. And yet, in spite of a robust two decades of experience, I’ve so much yet to learn. Who knew parenting would be this hard? What To Expect When You’re Expecting said absolutely nothing about parenting after new-baby-smell wore off. I needed follow-up volumes, things like What to Expect When Mood-swinging, What to Expect When Your Children are Driving You Insane, and What to Expect When Grounding-Them-FOREVER-AND-EVER-AMEN.

I’ll take a case of each, thankyouverymuch.

Instead, I keep messing up. Doing the wrong things, saying the wrong things. Which leads me to the very hardest part of parenting:

Forgiving myself.

This morning’s altercation lasted no more than a half hour. We talked through our disagreement soon after its occurrence. I apologized. He apologized. We both said, “I love you,” albeit from tense lips.

But I can’t let myself off the hook. I can’t accept my own apology. I should’ve been prepared for the emotion, should’ve been able to inhale, exhale, and handle the heated situation like a pro. Instead, I acted like an adolescent. Again. And for that I can’t forgive myself. But in all of my shaming, I nearly missed the the point:

What if there’s a lesson even here?

What if apologizing, forgiving and accepting deep, covering grace is a far better model to my children than my relentless self-perfection expectations? I’m not excusing my poor behavior. Not at all.

But failure and its forgiveness can be a beautiful teacher.

This morning I blew it. True. Chances are, in the last few days you did, too. We can sulk in a cloak of shame. Heaven knows I’ve about mastered that one. But shaming is about as immature as my morning outburst. What if, instead, we did this:

  • Say, “I’m sorry” as soon as possible.
  • Say, “I love you” soon after that.
  • Commit to grow.
  • Then let. it. go.

It could be that simple. Own it. Affirm love. Then forgive yourself and move on. End of story.

Shame is a dead end. Forgiveness is a new beginning. A day is coming when your child makes a big enough mistake he’ll struggle to forgive himself. And when that happens, you’ll want him to have the maturity and courage to move past the shame to try again.

Show him how it’s done, with your own mistakes. After all, children learn less from our lofty places of perfection, and far more from our humble places of grace.

How well do you forgive yourself?

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