When’s the last time you felt guilty as a parent? I can probably fill up both fingers counting the number of times I’ve felt guilty today and it is not even noon. Why does no one talk about the things they do wrong as a parent? Why do we allow ourselves to be shamed by social media, telling ourselves we won’t ever be as good as Mom A or as creative as Mom B? Why do we hold in all the bad stories, allowing ourselves to feel isolated, rather than share those scary or hard moments with others and find unity in our faults? I’m only a year-and-a-half into this journey of motherhood and let me tell you, the number of things I’ve done wrong is innumerable. Despite my short time in this role I have quickly come to realize we are all far from perfect, and when we share our imperfections we start to feel a bit less alone.
In hopes of spreading this message, I decided to step out of my comfort zone a bit more and share my biggest mom guilt story on social media. I posted a photo and explained that at the beginning of June my son crawled into the bathroom while I was getting ready for the day. He then pulled the cord of my hair straightener, causing it to fall directly onto his right arm. It took about two seconds for me to realize what had happened as his scream began to fill the room. I quickly scooped him up, ran to the freezer for an ice pack, and frantically searched the house for his paci. We sat down on the couch; I shushed, rocked, and hugged him tight as I applied the cold pack; and the tears started streaming down my face.
How could I be so stupid? How could I let the cord dangle from the side of the sink, basically asking him to pull it down atop himself? Why didn’t I put it on the other side? Would we have to go to the ER? Would his skin ever be the same? What would I tell people at his birthday party in just a few weeks?
I was mortified and devastated. I called the doctor and somehow stifled the tears for long enough to set up an appointment. Then I called my husband and bawled while trying to explain what happened (I’m surprised he could even hear me through the ugly sobs). We went to the doctor, and he told us it happens more frequently than I’d think (which still didn’t make me feel any better). Wylie acquired the first-degree burn with two second-degree spots. He sent us home with a silver cream prescription and instructions to follow up with our normal doctor in a week. From that point on I didn’t want to leave the house. Every time we discussed going somewhere the wave of guilt washed over me again and the idea of anyone seeing his arm and asking me what had happened was enough to make my stomach knot up. I reluctantly shared the story with my closest church friends, asking for prayers for no pain, no infection, and total healing, but that still didn’t make me want to get out in public.
Eventually, the shock and newness of it all wore off. After I had some time to process and was encouraged by some wise women to be vulnerable and share the ugly, difficult moments, I decided to release the story to my online world. In posting my moment of deep guilt, I also wanted to give other moms a safe space to share their own stories. I prefaced my request with a no-judgment guarantee and a promise to change names while including their stories in this article. I was shocked by the openness and courage of the moms who shared. It’s amazing how freeing it can be to share difficult moments with others, so I hope these stories ease your woes and remind you that we all struggle and make mistakes.
I was quickly encouraged, that I was not alone, with multiple stories of children grabbing curling irons or putting hands on a hot stove. One son reached for a boiling pot of spaghetti sauce which toppled over and severely burned his knee. Another mom told this story (I’ve changed the wording a bit for flow and names for anonymity):
“Linus used to ‘help’ me make my coffee by sitting on the counter while I stirred the cream. One day, [when] he was about two-and-a-half, he started falling off the counter. (I was right next to him, leaning on his legs.) His instinct was to reach out. He pulled the coffee with him as he fell, and it splashed all over his chest. I immediately knew it was BAD and rushed to the ER, where I found out he had acquired second-degree burns. He was sedated to clean the burned area and put on stronger drugs than I have ever been on! It was a freak accident with the way he was situated on the counter and how far the coffee was from him, BUT there were also things I shouldn’t have been doing (letting him on the counter or even near my hot coffee).”
While I can only imagine how devastating this moment must have been for the mom and her son, it was still a great reminder that things can happen in an instant and despite our best efforts we will inevitably make mistakes like in the following two stories:
“My husband and I went on our first vacation ever without the kids a few weeks ago. I was already dealing with some guilt about leaving them for six days, knowing how sad they would be without us. The night before we left, my husband took the two-year-old to run some errands while I stayed behind with the three-year-old and one-year-old ‘Jason’ to do some cleaning.
All of a sudden I had that funny feeling we are probably all familiar with: ‘It’s too quiet…’ Jason was out of sight. ‘I wonder if he’s in the bathroom again?’ I thought. He is OBSESSED with toilets. I raced to the bathroom and found him standing at the toilet, lid open, choking. Not only was he playing with toilet water but he had grabbed the cleaning tablet that hangs on the rim and was eating it! His hands and mouth were covered with the residue and he was screaming and struggling to swallow. I’m not sure at this point if he was just sucking on it or bit some off. I frantically washed his hands and mouth and made sure there was nothing blocking his airway, but he continued to scream every time he swallowed and was gagging and choking. I called 911 in a panic. The situation escalated because they said he needed to be seen immediately but we only have one car and my husband was 30 minutes from home. They said, ‘All right, ma’am, the fire department in on the way. Call us if he stops breathing. Either way, he will be screaming because it’s probably burning as it’s going down because it’s a harsh cleaning product.’ Cue waves of guilt that would wash over me for the next several hours. Lots of praying in the 13 minutes it took them to get to us. Luckily by the time they arrived, he had stopped crying and they felt it wasn’t going to cause any long-term damage.”
She continued to mention that she collapsed in her husband’s arms when he arrived home, tears streaming down her face, and even more guilt washed over her wondering how she could let it happen in the first place but also thinking, How could he even look at me again if something tragic had happened? He reminded her that these things happen, but it didn’t take away that nauseous feeling and the lingering question of “What if?” which leads us into our next story:
My husband and I had just returned home from a date night. He headed upstairs while I paid the sitter and got ready to walk her out through the garage (which I’d left open so she could leave). She told me her shoes were by the front door, so I walked with her and let her out that way instead. Then I turned out the lights and headed upstairs to check on my two- and four-year-old boys before heading to bed. The next morning, bright and early, my four-year-old burst into our room and said, ‘Mom, I told you about leaving the garage open…’ As soon as we heard that, my husband and I immediately jumped out of bed and ran downstairs. He went outside toward the back yard and I went toward the front. My two-year-old had run out of the house and we could not find him anywhere. After ten long, excruciating minutes I hopped in my car to cover more ground and saw my neighbor’s daughter coming out of her house. In tears at this point, I frantically asked if she had seen my son. She exclaimed that she thought her mom had him in the house. I pulled into the driveway, burst through her front door like a crazy woman to find my safe and content two-year-old humming a song and eating a banana in her living room. At this sight my legs collapsed from under me and I burst into tears. When I regained feeling in my legs, I scooped him up and ran to my house to give him to his still-frantic father. We took measures to make sure our house was extra secure and now I double and sometimes even triple check to make sure things are locked up at night.”
Story after story I quickly came to see many moms have a laundry list of things they feel guilty about, from bumps and bruises to moments of panic, to feeling like you’re starving your baby by trying to force breastfeeding (I’m saving that story for a time when I can work up the nerve to share my own breastfeeding trials and tribulations). We should view these moments as situations to learn from and remind ourselves that they could happen to anyone. It’s so easy to share all the happy, fun moments of motherhood, proudly posting them on Instagram for all the world to see. But when we open up and share our flaws with others you’ll find a lot more people are struggling and making mistakes alongside you, and maybe, just maybe you’re doing all right at this whole parenting thing.