I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like messes. I
like need things to be clean and organized. I pay attention to details. I try to be everything to everyone. Trying to be perfect drives me crazy, but it’s just who I am. At least, that’s what I tell my therapist.
However, I’m also a mom. And if there’s one thing that motherhood has taught me, it’s that it is messy. And I’m not just talking about sticky fingers and snotty noses. I mean that being a mom gets you into some messy situations. And I was recently reminded of just how messy motherhood can be when my son bullied another little boy at the mall playground.
Yep, I just said that. My son was a bully. A sweet, innocent little boy was waiting to go down the slide at the mall playground – you know the one just outside of Dillard’s – and my son pushed him all the way to the bottom. Thankfully, it’s a short slide and the child wasn’t injured. But there were tears. Lots of them. And there was an upset mom, trying to comfort her crying child, and all of this was taking place about three feet away from me. Awkward.
From the angle where I was sitting, I didn’t see “the incident.” But when I saw this poor little boy crying, I knew my son had something to do with it. Why? Because I know my son, and as much as I love him, I know he’s not perfect.
My son is smart, fun-loving and creative. When he sees a problem, he always tries to solve it. He’s generally kind, and he gets along well with his little brother. But my son is also stubborn. He’s strong-willed and likes to be in control. We’re constantly having power struggles, and he acts out when he doesn’t get his way. And by “acting out,” I mean WWIII-level temper tantrums.
When I asked Noah what happened, he didn’t hesitate to tell me the truth. “Well, I pushed that boy down,” he said. I was mortified. It’s one thing when your child is the victim…that’s when the mama bear comes out, and everyone knows that the mama bear is entitled to her rage. But what exactly are you supposed to do when your child is the aggressor? I mean, obviously you discipline your child, which I did. But are you supposed to say something to the other parent, besides mustering up a quiet “I’m sorry”? And if so, what exactly do you say? I don’t remember this particular scenario being covered in any etiquette books.
I also felt defeated, because I try soooo hard to curb this type of behavior, but it just keeps happening. I know I can’t expect Noah to be a perfect angel 100% of the time, but why can’t he pull his act together when we’re out in public? Shouldn’t he have outgrown his tantrums by now?
And that’s when it starts. The negative self talk. It starts with “It’s all my fault,” then it escalates pretty quickly to that terrible phrase, “I’m a bad mom.” Because the perfectionist in me always takes the blame. I know it’s unreasonable. Everyone tells me that all kids behave badly some of the time, and that it doesn’t necessarily reflect on their parenting. I know that even at his young age, Noah is responsible for his own actions. But I can’t help but feel responsible for the times my son has bad behavior. I feel like if I was just a better mom, if I was more consistent, if I enforced the rules more strictly, if I had a sterner voice…
And then I remember, that as much as a try to be perfect, I’m not. And my child isn’t perfect. And we live in an imperfect world. We live in a world in which sometimes, 4-year-old boys push other kids down slides. We live in a world where mothers are sometimes disappointed by their children’s behavior. And that’s okay, because it’s just the way it is.