The Hardest Part of Parenting

May 29, 2013

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?


  1. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Boy do I relate to this one, Michelle! Raising teens is not for the faint of heart! Mine are now 43 (ok…I was 17 when he was born!), 40, and 32 respectively, and I can still remember some of the scenes as if they were yesterday…well, five years ago at least. But guess what? They would each give their life for me and I would give mine for them. We desperately love each other. You mentioned saying I’m sorry and saying I love you soon after…that’s the key that fits this lock. Most of the time a teen rebelling is simply a teen trying out adulthood in the only way he/she knows how. Back in the early 90’s there was a television show called “Sisters,” with Sela Ward. I still repeat a line I heard in that show to my children and we all laugh. It goes, “Oh you kids and your therapy…it was funny at the time!”

    • Michele

      Hahaha. Great line! We need to laugh at ourselves and with each other far more than we do. That’s another post I’m writing … coming soon!

  2. Esther

    I think it would be easier if I didn’t need to forgive myself on a daily basis!
    Thank goodness I’m not the one holding that power to forgive all, because by the 100th time I would have surely said, “no forgiveness for you!” Like a forgiveness soup nazi.

    • Michele

      So true! I think the daily-ness of my failures is what gets me the most discouraged. (P.S. Forgiveness soup nazi. Ahahahaha.)

  3. Sarah Malcangi

    Great post! As a mother of a 5 year old boy I can relate yet I have so many more years to go. Parenting is not easy and I just want to provide a loving and Christ centered home (something I didn’t have as a child). It is a constant learning process!

    • Michele

      Constant, constant learning process. Even now, with two of my kids adults, I feel the weight of all the learning yet to do. The good news? It’s never too late to try again.

  4. Christy Truitt

    Love love and love again. I jumped all over my 8 year old for telling a lie when I realized later he lied because he feared my reaction. Ya think? Covered in grace, I will do as you model. Forgive, let go, and try ever so hard to mind the tongue at the next opportunity right around the corner.

    • Michele

      Ah, yes. The lying-reaction cycle. Been there. Covered in beautiful grace.

  5. Amy von Borstel

    I LOVE this! I have a sixteen year old son and a twenty-three year old daughter. I can totally relate to your heart and your feelings. We ALL have had moments like you’ve described here (even if people won’t admit it to others). There is no way to raise children without having moments of frustration and flying emotions at times. There aren’t any perfect parents. It TRULY is the grace and forgiveness that we model to our children that matters more than anything else. Leading them to Christ…the path of infinite grace is the best gift we can give our children.

    Thank you, Michele, for writing this!

    • Michele Cushatt

      I talked with my hairstylist about it yesterday while she was cutting my hair. Within minutes, another women edged over to my chair to say, “Me, too!” As you said, we ALL struggle with this.

  6. Alice Arment

    Sounds like….”It is what it is, now what will you do with it!” I love your ending words Michele “children learn less from our lofty places of perfection, and far more from our humble places of grace!” Words of wisdom worth not only remembering but practicing because the truth will always remain that we can’t rewind, but we can change the story line.
    Your a great Mom!

    • Michele Cushatt

      We can’t rewind, but we can change the story line. Well said, Alice.

  7. Jennifer Gentry

    I, too, Michele, just did the very same thing last night……I lost it with my 21 year old daughter who is such a good and responsible young woman but KNOWS, not only HOW to push my buttons, but has a tendency to LAY on said button til I explode and I do – every time. Why is it that the very traits of our children that drive us crazy, are our own traits as well???? I, too, feel such an enormous sense of responsibility to be a good and loving parent – firm yet tender, fair yet understanding, real yet sensitive…..I drive myself bonkers at times but then I remember WHO has always loved me first, best and forever and then I feel hopeful again Good luck, friend!

    • Michele

      I used to think parenting was so easy. Then I became one. I’m with you, Jennifer.

  8. Denise

    Yep. Forgiving myself is exactly what I’m working on now, too.
    Thanks, Michele

  9. Cheri Gregory

    LOVE this, Michele. I’m very late in learning that without boundaries, there is no real love. We’re all paying far higher-than-I-wish prices for all the retrofitting going on in our family system. Did you see Lysa TerKeurst’s blog post for moms this week? I’m going to read it until I have it memorized…

    • Michele

      Quite possibly my favorite post of hers yet. Thanks for sharing it here, Cheri.



  1. Sisters by Another Mother: 10 Things I Learned This Week - Living For ONE - [...] Lose it with their kid and decide to own up to it. Thanks, Michelle Cushatt. (The Hardest Part of…

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