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Recently a friend of mine shared one of those horror parenting stories. You know, the ones where you give some guidelines for behavior, the child fails to follow through, and then you are trapped in playing out the big bad meanie parent's role as enforcer. I know, I know: think before an "if clause," but you know you've done it too. Anyhow, this particular story was a good one insofar as it resulted in some public hilarity and whole-family consequences, and that no one was actually damaged in the process. I heard the story during the blow-off steam moment, when you - as the parent - are horribly upset this situation has even happened, and even more mortified that you are the one who caused it all, and so you hope to tell it as some funny, tall-tale that makes it all seem less awful in its realness. The confessional-slash-reality TV maneuver of parenting story-telling.

A few weeks later, I brought up the moment again to my friend as an aside-joke on another mother's shared parenting catastrophe. It was at this moment that I saw the sincere pain and regret reflected in my friend's eyes. Not that she didn't still see the latent comedy in the experience, but only that she was now able to process publicly the parts of the situation that were truly not as she wished them. This had been a bad moment for her, one which I'm sure she tallied up as a "fail" that night before bed in the never-ending measurements we all administer to ourselves as parents. As I thought about it, I realized that for me it had been a funny story that I personally related to and also moved quickly forward from, while for her it had served as a break-down of her best efforts and perhaps as a circumstance that she repeatedly regaled herself with when listing her parenting faults.

How often are the missteps we judge ourselves harshly for making so common that others, when hearing them, only nod and think: been there too! Not that we shouldn't seek to be better, but that we should not berate ourselves continually as we learn to do better. Along this line, I realized that all I wanted to say at that moment was: I'm so sorry that this happened to you. That this moment of ogre-parenting-behavior that none of us truly wants to be part of and all of us eventually fall prey to had to happen to you today. I already know that this mother is a wonderful woman who doesn't seek to quarrel with her children or "ruin their lives." And so I only hope that she is able to say, along with me - when my turn most definitely comes - this isn't me, I'm not an ogre, and I need to leave this behind and move forward.


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