My Favorite Parenting Fails: 9 Mistakes I Made as a First-Time Mom

When I was pregnant with my first child, I read the obligatory What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the bible for nervous, first-time moms. Then I read What to Expect the First Year, The Happiest Baby on the Block, What to Expect the Toddler Years, and any other parenting book I could get my hands on. I wanted so badly to be good at parenting – no, not just “good.” I wanted to be perfect.

I’m the second oldest in a family of six kids. My mom was always flying by the seat of her pants, trying desperately to keep up with us but forever falling behind. We were always late to everything: church, school, basketball practice, doctors’ appointments. Our bag lunches were thrown together and sometimes mixed up, so that on any given day, I could end up with nothing but a slab of apple pie in a sandwich bag, no fork. Every kid in our family was responsible for his/her own homework, which in my case, meant that it often didn’t get done. (I still, at 41, have nightmares about showing up to school empty-handed on the day a project is due).

I swore I would do things differently when I became a mom. I’m not sure I ever came out and said the words, “I’m going to be a perfect parent when I grow up,” but somewhere in my subconscious, this vow took strong and stubborn root. When I finally did become a parent, you can imagine my surprise in finding out there’s no perfect parent alive, and if there is, it sure isn’t me. From the first day my first son was born, to the day his twin brothers were born three years later, to this day, as a mom of a 10-year-old and twin 7-year-old boys, I’ve been messing this parenting thing up!

As a stay-at-home mom, the daily pressure of knowing that I was making these mistakes, but not talking about them, and not forgiving myself for them, made me a walking bottle rocket ready to explode at any second. One stressful day, while I was making three sets of dinners for my family of five, I tapped out a few lines of a status update on Facebook. I listed the day’s catastrophes, and then I made a joke about them. Within minutes, other parents were laughing, commiserating and sharing their sob stories.

That day, I realized: we all make mistakes, but freedom comes from talking about our missteps. Some of them seem tiny, some of them colossal, but at the end of the day, we have to try to forgive ourselves, talk about what went wrong and remind ourselves that there’s no lasting trauma for our kids. (Most kids won’t even remember that time Mommy lost her mind at the playground and shattered glass with her high-pitched screaming as she dragged her whining kids to the car. Hypothetically speaking.)

It’s time to purge ourselves of these mistakes. I’ll start. These are my top nine follies, foibles and faux pas from my first few years of parenthood.

My Nine Favorite Parenting Fails

1. Rollover Minutes: The day I realized my firstborn infant son, Sam, could roll over was the day I left him on our bed while I went down the hall to grab the diaper cream. When I came back, he was on the floor wailing, and then we were both on the floor wailing. He was perfectly fine. I was traumatized. But not traumatized enough to avoid making the VERY SAME MISTAKE with one of my infant twins three years later.

2. The Blowout: One day I didn’t take the diaper bag with me on a “short run” to a clothing store. The short run turned into a long run, and just runs in general. Diaper blowouts are the worst.

3. The Sleep Trap: When the colic started at 2 1/2 weeks, I would do anything to get Sam to sleep. That’s when I started letting him sleep in the swing all night long, despite the warnings in all the books that I’d be creating a terrible habit. Guess what? I CREATED A TERRIBLE HABIT. A terrible habit that led to all sorts of sleep issues, haunting us for months to come.

4. Food Fail: I gave up on introducing new foods to my stubborn toddler, since anything new got flung to the floor whenever my back was turned. I decided to stick with what he would consistently eat. That rotation soon got smaller … and smaller … and smaller until now my 10-year-old eats only pizza, hot dogs, grilled cheese, and peanut butter sandwiches. Mealtime is super fun at my house.

5. Timeout Trauma: All the books say that when you put a kid in timeout, he needs to stay there until you tell him he can come out (or the timer you set goes off). My son wouldn’t stay in timeout; he acted like he was being blasted by lava every time I put him there and would run away shrieking his head off. Remember that show, “Super Nanny?” I watched parents spend HOURS calmly putting their kid back in timeout to teach him/her to stay put. Ain’t nobody got time for that! So I put Sam in his high chair with his seatbelt on, using that as his timeout chair, something all the books warn you against doing because you don’t want your kid making a negative association with mealtimes. See #4.

6. The Toilet Lid Incident: Potty training. I could talk for hours about the mistakes I made potty training three boys (and two of these at the same time). But the most memorable incident was with Sam at age 3, when I was teaching him to pee standing up. He’d already mastered the sit-down pee, and his dad was starting to get concerned that Sam would still be sitting down to pee when he graduated high school. Everything was going swimmingly, and Sam was standing there one afternoon in our bathroom doing his business, so I walked into the kitchen to make lunch. Suddenly, I heard a SLAM followed by a coyote-like howl. The kid had dropped the heavy porcelain toilet lid down on his tiny member, which was swelling up like a miniature, purple Goodyear blimp. (Even at 10 years old, Sam still talks about this incident, so in this case there is lasting psychological trauma. But his member is just fine).

7. Trick or Treat: Potty treats. There is nothing at all wrong with potty treats in my opinion. We used them with Sam, giving him a few M&Ms for going #1 and a handful for going #2. However, by the time I started potty training the twins, Zach and Drew, they were so resistant, and I was such a broken woman, I was offering them donuts, ice cream cones and candy bars for doing ANY number at all, even half a number! (Don’t tell the dentist.)

8. Clean Plate Club: This one isn’t so much a mistake as a survival technique that became routine in our house but looked insane to the outside world. When Zach and Drew were born, we were in the middle of moving. They were only 9 days old. We were barely hanging on to our sanity, walking around like zombies after sleepless nights, digging through boxes to find the forks and carrying crying babies around in Baby Bjorns like a fifth appendage. One night at dinnertime, our most harrowing time of day, a neighbor stopped by to bring us a welcome-to-the-neighborhood bottle of wine. (Wine is always welcome.) My husband Todd invited her into the kitchen, and she stared at me aghast as I sat eating my spaghetti and meatball dinner with a baby attached to me, a dishtowel tossed on top of his head to catch any stray noodle or dollop of sauce. It probably looked pretty strange to see nothing of the baby but his little feet dangling while I casually slurped my spaghetti with a towel over his head. My bad.

9. The Writing on The Walls: When we moved into our new house, our basement was unfinished, but it was a huge space that seemed wasted if we didn’t at least try to use it. So we got some ugly carpet remnants, rolled them all over the floors and took a bunch of toys down there. It was a perfect playroom! One winter day, when we’d watched our fill of TV, the kids were out-of-their-minds bored. We were all going stir-crazy. I looked around at the bare basement dry-walled walls and had what I thought was a stroke of genius. Let the kids write on the walls! YES! This would be the holy grail of kid crafts! And it was, for a while. Until I started finding cave-like hieroglyphics ALL OVER MY HOUSE.

I could go on, and on and ON about my parenting lapses in judgment – these all happened in the first five years! I’m ten years in now, and I’m still not the perfect parent I foolishly vowed to be. In many ways, I’m the fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of mom that my own mom was. But I’m okay with that now. At the end of the day, I love my kids, I forgive my mistakes, I laugh at myself, I shake it off, and I go to bed ready to do it all again tomorrow.

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