Today, I screwed up and had an adult temper tantrum in front of my 6-year-old and 2-year-old while out shopping. It was a legitimate outburst that would have competed strongly against any teething toddler with no sleep and an empty sippy cup.
My jacket zipper got stuck, and then while trying to get it unstuck, I managed to rip a huge hole inside of it. The down feathers came pouring out like water, mocking me as they flew away in the wind. And I snapped. Like an Incredible Hulk super smash showdown.
I yanked my jacket off, chucked it as hard as I could across the passenger-side seat of the minivan, and screamed a cornucopia of very bad words. My white-knuckled hands punched the air around me as if I were fighting a gang of angry bees. I continued by heaving my body into the driver seat, slammed the door as hard as I could, and then battled through a tug-o-war with my seatbelt. I was sweating and swearing. I was the worst version of myself in that moment.
It had been a very long week, as any mother can relate, and that darn zipper was my final tipping point. After I finished my hissy fit, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and remembered who my audience was in the backseat.
I finally mustered the courage to look back at my 6-year-old and make eye contact with her. She was unsure what to do. So, she did nothing. She just sat very quietly and did not move a muscle. Even my 2-year-old was frozen in suspense.
I quickly transformed back into “normal Mommy” and sincerely apologized for my behavior. I explained how my actions, while completely human from time to time, were unacceptable, and my choice in words was very poor. I could have handled it better.
She still didn’t move or say anything.
I then asked her how I could have handled that situation better.
She finally blinked, looked out the window in thought, and then replied, “Well, maybe next time take three really deep breaths and close your eyes, and then listen to the sounds outside, like the birdies singing, and then you’ll be happy again.” I agreed with her suggestion and then asked if she had any other ideas to deal with anger. Without hesitation, she said, “You could also count to 10 or 20, or even 100, you know, whatever number you need to get to calm down. Sometimes, I count to 20, because I need more time than 10.”
I nodded again, and she quickly followed with, “Or, you could also ask for help. You always tell me to ask for help when I get mad when I can’t do something. So, maybe since you couldn’t unzip your jacket, you could have asked Daddy for help instead.”
(My whole face lit up and I was smiling ear to ear. Wow, I love that kid. How did I get so lucky?!)
Even better, when I apologized again, she said, “Don’t worry, Mama, I forgive you. And, I’m sure Santa forgives you, too, and he will still bring you a present, because he loves you, just like me.”
She is my constant source of humility and grace. And, because I allow her to see me be more human, and because I talk openly with her about my mistakes, she is learning compassion and forgiveness.
Not just for others, but even more importantly, for herself.
When I first became a mother, I thought I had to be perfect. I thought I had to have a perma-smile with all the right answers, Pinterest-worthy style and recipes, and be in constant control. I thought that if my daughter ever saw me mess up or make a mistake, then I would be a failure as a mother.
Funny thing is, I messed up a lot as a first-time mom. It’s inevitable. We are only human. But, one of the most important lessons I have learned as a mother is that our children do not need us to be perfect. They need us to love them and to love ourselves.
I am not a perfect mother, but I am perfect for my daughters.
When I was a teacher, I loved the quote, “When one teaches, two learn.” Now, as a stay-at-home mom, I have transformed that quote into, “When one loves, two grow.”
Published on Motherly, September 6, 2018: