I’m pretty sure I became a helicopter mom before I even got pregnant. Everything needed to be meticulously planned out before I had a child, I thought. Everything had to be perfect, because if it wasn’t, I might ruin another human being. I didn’t think I could live with the guilt if I created a life and then did something to “mess it up,” and the anxiety this caused me was excruciating at times. My intentions were good, honorable, and based purely in love, but still, my plan backfired.
The expectations I had for myself as a parent were ridiculously high (sometimes they still are), and I blamed myself for everything that went wrong. Maybe my baby was colicky because I stood too close to the Xerox machine at work when I was pregnant and exposed the fetus to chemicals. What if the reason she was crying was because I wasn’t a good enough housekeeper and she needed to be in a cleaner house? I swore that every little thing I did or didn’t do was going to destroy her life. A few months in, I finally learned that I had postpartum depression and anxiety as well as postpartum OCD; however, this realization didn’t help anything. In some ways, it made everything worse. I just knew that having a mentally ill mother was bound to screw up my daughter forever. She was probably going to grow up and rob banks to support her drug addiction, and it would be my fault because I was crazy.
At least, though, I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I did. I shared a collective neurosis suffered by a lot of well-meaning mothers and fathers today. We all want the same thing — happy, healthy kids who’d grow up to have easy fulfilling lives. We try to control everything because we want to prevent their suffering and we don’t want to be at fault if something goes wrong.
I blame the media for most of why we feel this way. The people who are having children today grew up in the era of talk shows. We were exposed to hours of confessional programming, watching everyone from ordinary housewives to A-list celebrities tearfully recounting their horror stories to hosts who exploited their suffering for the entertainment of others. One thing the majority of these talk show guests had in common was that they all had really messed up childhoods. The message we, as a society, took from watching this was: “If your life is a disaster it’s your parents’ fault.”
And sometimes it is. Except, mostly it’s not.
Besides that? A lot of the time hardship is actually what makes us great. Most of our beloved heroes, present day and throughout history, have lived through things that were unimaginably awful and unbearable, and yet, they prevailed: Eli Wiesel, Maya Angelou, Oprah, Barack Obama, Charlize Theron, Frederick Douglas, Tony Robbins, Marilyn Monroe (I could go on forever).
On a smaller scale, the dearest, kindest people I know all had pretty crappy formative years. The number of people who had it bad as children and who grew up to be serial killers is minute. It has to be, or else we’d have a lot more serial killers running around, and they’re actually pretty rare. There are significantly more happy successful people than sadistic axe murderers, and I find this comforting when I’m too hard on myself as a parent.
The first few years of my daughter’s life were pretty tough. On top of my struggle with anxiety and depression, both of my parents went to prison. We had plenty of family drama, a few health crises, two car accidents, and the resulting financial hardship that came from all of this. Taking care of a baby in the midst of these events was, to say the least, not the simple, peaceful, idyllic life I’d imagined and planned. Therefore, I convinced myself that my daughter was definitely going to be angry and miserable and probably join a murderous cult or something, all because I hadn’t been able to protect her from the unpleasant parts of life.
But the thing is, no matter how hard we work to control everything, we can never fully shelter our kids. Moms and dads and caretakers cannot protect our children from strife, nor should we try. No matter what, life will always consistently throw us curve balls, and the trick is not to hide our kids from the struggles, pain, and tears, but to show them how to face obstacles head on. The tough times are what teach us empathy, compassion. Through tribulation our characters evolve and we become resilient, and most important — we get motivated.
It is far more valuable for parents to model vulnerability, honesty, and optimism when confronting difficulty than it is to pretend that life is fair and easy and filled with nothing but sunny days. As parents, we blame ourselves for so many things that are completely beyond our control, but we also worry that even our smallest failures will destroy our children. Let me reassure you that our kids are tougher than we realize. This is their chance to learn perseverance and that life isn’t always fair. No one has ever truly “made it” without embodying these important lessons.
Moms and dads, we are all going to have bad days. We might even have bad weeks or bad months. Our journey through child rearing may look nothing like we once thought it would, and that is okay. There is no such thing as perfect and there shouldn’t be. Of course, we should always try to do our best to be loving, supportive, and open with our children, but it’s important that we remember that when life is imperfect (or just plain awful) or when we ourselves mess up, that there is a silver lining: the circumstances that we may see as failures are usually the building blocks of our children’s future successes.More On