I Decided I Was the Worst Parent on the Planet, Then I Said This to My Daughter

Yesterday, around dinnertime, I decided I was the worst parent on the planet.

I do believe feelings are noteworthy at all times. And, after a slew of rapid fire, gone-crazy texts to my husband, he finally replied with a profound, “Stop It,” reminding me how unproductive these feelings can be if not married to 1) facts, and 2) a brain. (P.S. I was also the worst spouse there ever was.)

Have you ever been a fly on your own wall, watching yourself parent? There are so many moments when a situation speeds into chaos while you’re at the wheel. Your fly self says, Ooohhhh wow, this is bad. Crash and burn bad. I’m quite positive I am crushing my kid’s soul, but I just have to get this one last comment out because this child is driving me mad. 

Shutting your mouth in these moments is like trying to keep hot lava from rolling downhill. You will inevitably think, This is not gonna end well, but will feel unable to stop it.

On my worst and best days, my parenting résumé is short and simple: I don’t know what I’m doing.

I’m not saying I don’t know the good and right ways to behave and speak – I know plenty of those things, complete with effective responses for a multitude of challenging parent-child scenarios.

But parenting quips can be so brain-only, can’t they? Our best how-to books don’t have a relationship with us or with our child. Their advice can be valuable but can also miss the heart of things, rarely factoring in our deepest hopes and fears – our internal promise to do it all differently than, or the same as, our parents; our regret of not being able to have do-overs; all the ways we feel so ill-equipped and powerless in the face of our child’s unique and intense struggles. Head knowledge just never makes much room for the demanding emotional complexity within our stories, for the ways all those hopes and fears want to steer our behavior and relationships.

Simply put, parenting takes a healthy mix of brain and heart, along with boat-loads of help. There’s a whole lot of glory that comes down the line, often right before a whole lot of excruciating pain. Then, you rinse and repeat, because just when you think you’ve got it, the floor will drop out. It’s no wonder parenting can make us feel so smart and so dumb all at once.

That said, this was the focus of yesterday’s parenting fail: My nine year old daughter battles anxiety, and sometimes (e.g. last night) I make it exactly 1,000 times worse. I cannot tell the parts of the story that belong to her, but I can speak about some of them from my perspective.

I’ve learned she has a busy brain. It’s fascinating and creative, but also a carnival ride that dizzies her into exhaustion. Those closest to her become just as disoriented watching her go ‘round and ‘round with no one at the control box to shut it down. Who in the world can REST on a tilt-a-whirl?

“I don’t know why my brain does this, Mom,” she cries to me. “But it won’t stop.”

I don’t know why, either, but as any parent would, I hate watching my child suffer. And I don’t know who to blame for it because life is ever layered and always spiritual. I have blamed myself. I’ve blamed her dad. I have blamed evil, then I’ve moved on to God. I’ve blamed family stress, genetics, busyness, and “type-A-personality-just-like-her-mom.” It could be all of these things or none of them. Truly, I only want to know what to blame so I can chase it down, wrestle it into submission, and send it away.

My lowest points are when I blame her. She puts her head in her hands often, frozen by the simplest of decisions. Her dizziness boils over into tears; mine explodes into critical outbursts.

“You need to stop doing this to yourself,” I say. “You just need to LET IT GO!”

With that, I twist her internal knots even tighter. Her eyes plead with me about it. Mom, they say, I know I do, but I don’t know HOW.

When I get honest, I see it in myself, just as I see it in those I counsel: Anger is almost always a secondary emotion, often one of fear’s most clever hiding places. In truth, an exacerbated, “Just stop!” is not my heart’s deepest cry to my daughter. It is so much more vulnerable:

You are looking to me for help, but I don’t know how to help you.

If I were to own that out loud, even to myself, where would that leave us?

Somewhere along the way, I told myself it would mean she’d be utterly alone and abandoned in her stormy inner world. Somewhere along the way, I told myself it’d mean I would be a disappointment as a mother – a broken, resented failure.

And somewhere along the way, however covertly, I also told myself I was her savior.

I told myself I was her savior. 

I told myself I was her savior.

There it is. I told myself I was her savior.

Cyndie Randall
Cyndie Randall
"Cyndie Randall is a writer and therapist, ever passionate about uprooting falsehoods, planting goodness, and growing hope. You can find her writing and music splashed about on Facebook, iTunes, and cyndierandall.com."

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