What are the Two Biggest Parenting Mistakes?

At the end of 2010, I blogged about the books I’d read that year. My comment about a book featuring a kilted-hero significantly drove my blog traffic up. Based on the number of people directed to my blog by searches about kilts, what’s under (or not under) a kilt appears to be a cultural obsession.

I noted that I read one parenting book in 2010 (The Three Martini Playdate, highly recommended because, for one thing, it’s short). I also viewed one parenting DVD, Magic 1-2-3, recommended by our Harborview specialist, who looked young enough to be studying for the SATs.

As a result of the new parenting skills I’d learned based on the DVD, I posed a question to my readers:

What are the two biggest mistakes that parents make (according to the author Dr. Thomas Phelan)?

Nobody responded.

I wish they had, because a year later I totally forget what the answer is. I’m too busy making the other 7,493 parenting errors I commit on a daily basis. But if I could just cure myself of those two, whatever they are, I’d be down to 7,491.

By admitting to countless daily mistakes, I’m not being humble. I’m not flagellating myself and calling myself a poor mother. We live in an age of vilified Bad Mommies, which I have been called. According to my observations, it takes one of two things to be sent packing to the Bad Mommy camp, where 24/7 the loudspeakers play, “Can I have another one? Please? Can I have another one? Please? Can I have another one? Please?”:

1) we murder our children, or, 2) we write truthfully about our mothering experience.

I can say only one thing for sure about Bad Mommies:

We Good Enough Mommies can handle a situation badly with our children and then look in the mirror and say to ourselves or our partners or our friends, “Well, sh&t, I sure f&cked that one up.” Then we knock back a stiff one, hike up our stretched elastic waistbands, and vow to do better next time our Little Monsters try our patience. It’s their job to try our patience—to push boundaries so they can figure out where the limits are. Dr. Phalen declares (and this I do remember because I loved it so much) that it’s the parents’ job to constantly irritate their children—to push back harder at the boundary lines. Huzzah, I get a perfect score on constantly irritating the Little Monster.

I can’t imagine the gall it takes to call someone a Bad Mommy. Because if we are judging another mother, that must mean we think we are ourselves perfect. Which we are not. Oh, believe me, my eyebrows raise sometimes at other people’s parenting, and the Man and I Married and I congratulate ourselves heartily on the vastly superior job that we are doing. Then the very big Little Monster does something like have a protracted, screaming meltdown in the middle of K-Mart, a store that I’d largely managed to avoid for the last quarter century, and the eyebrows all raise in my direction. I pat myself on the back for allowing all of the parents in the store to feel smug about themselves for that small moment.

Because the Good Enough Mommies I know are a lot harder on themselves than on other mothers. So they need a smug moment or two.

I know only one mother who was not capable of admitting her mistakes and wasn’t hard enough on herself, and the sad fact is that I am now raising her child. Her biggest mistake was my greatest gift.

Is it tempting to call her a Bad Mommy? Sure. Especially after two martinis (with the Little Monster tucked into bed with the stuffed animals that are frighteningly adept at procreating), and I find myself waxing poetic about the answers to all of life’s questions. She helps me to understand during these ridiculous Mommy Wars that it’s not about how much sugar or television we allow them, or what our discipline methods are, or whether we said a really bad word when the dump truck almost pancaked our car. It’s about doing our damndest to keep them safe.

How about we eliminate the term Bad Mommy and rename it Struggling Mommy?

Which is also what Good Enough Mommies are, if we are honest: Struggling Mommies.

Which means that we are all in the same camp, doing our best.


Pictured throughout this blog post are the motherhood memoirs I read in 2011.

Just seeing if you’re paying attention on that last one, The Vibrator Play. I did read it, and it is about motherhood, among other things. I had to read it because what mother has time to go see an adult play? No mother does. But we need to make the time, because when we mothers go to see plays about things like vibrators, we are happier, and a happy mom is nice for her kids to have around. And when our child asks us where we were, we can grin widely and say, “Oh, I went to learn about inventions after the age of electricity,” confirming to our children that we are uninteresting.

That I read this many motherhood memoirs surprises me in retrospect. While I read zero parenting “manuals,” I hunger (apparently) to hear the shared experience of other mothers. It surprises me even more that I not only started but finished them. I’m further surprised that I vaguely remember a small amount of what I read. Sometimes I wonder why I bother to read, since I can’t seem to remember most of what I’ve read since becoming a mother. But I read for the same reason I have sex: because the intimate experience is pleasurable and I’m connecting with other humans (just to clarify, that would be plural humans for reading and singular human for the hanky panky). I thank these authors for their courage in sharing their truths, which twisted a lot of knickers in some cases, causing such an uproar that Oprah herself had to mediate. Hmm, note to self: Writing a book that calls forth the Bad Mommy Police could mean selling lots and lots of copies.

I long for us to return to the halcyon days of Shirley Jackson in Life Among the Savages (1953), when she freely wrote, with no one condemning her of being a bad mother, such scenes as smoking in the back of a taxicab while in labor and on her way to deliver her third or fourth child (I’m sure there’s a difference but both are unimaginable to me). I’d share more scenes but I can’t remember any. She wrote of her children as “savages” and “demons,” but nobody questioned her mothering. They just thought she was funny and that she brilliantly understood the realities of the human condition, which she explored equally well in her horror stories. There’s not much difference between horror and humor in my book.

Because it’s horrible and hysterical that despite the overwhelming problems in the world, apparently what we really want to know is what’s under that darn kilt, anyway? My guess is that my mentioning a vibrator will lead a lot more people to this blog than people interested in books. Not that books are superior to vibrators! Just saying. If anyone’s going to get their knickers twisted, I hope that it’s a result of charged batteries and certain inventions.



3 thoughts on “What are the Two Biggest Parenting Mistakes?

  1. Another great post. And you mention Shirley Jackson’s wonderful memoir, and you use the phrase hanky panky. Ah, all good!

  2. Thank you for such a terrific blog post. As a ‘struggling mommy’ of two adolescents, I know I’ve been filed in the ‘Bad Mommy’ folder many times. What can I do, but listen to my heart and laugh at the situations after all the tears have dried. You’re the best.

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