By Melissa Stefanec
Being a parent means experiencing many contradictory things at once. Parenting is both beautiful and scary. Miraculous and redundant. Exhausting and exhilarating. Silly and serious. Pure and gross.
The experience of parenting has almost as many contradictions as there are antonyms in the English language.
However, I can think of at least one thing about parenting that never contradicts itself. Parenting is incredibly hard. It’s never easy. Granted, loving your children is easy, but parenting them is different.
As a parent, I am literally cultivating another human being. It’s a tremendous and beautiful opportunity, but it has never been easy.
As difficult things often go, I have messed up parenting up so many times. There have been times, in moments of exhaustion or personal weakness, where I have failed my children in very real ways. I want to think that my failures haven’t been catastrophic in nature. I hope I have not salted the Earth where I am tending my children. But, on the hard days, I’m not certain.
So, in light of a new and beautiful year, I’m going to leave the tradition of resolutions at the threshold of 2023. Resolutions are easy to make and easy to break. They don’t teach me much, as they often leave me feeling disappointed in myself.
Instead of making resolutions, I want to start this year off on a note of self reflection and self empathy. So, I’m starting a new tradition. I’m writing a letter to myself to come to grips with the failures of 2022. Perhaps, this exercise will encourage me to offer myself more grace. Perhaps that grace will make a better mother.
As 2022 falls into the rearview mirror, here are some words of encouragement for me.
It’s now 2023. Isn’t that beautiful? I know you’ve been working a lot on yourself as a parent and partner to your husband. I also know that you hold yourself to high standards and beat yourself up when you make mistakes.
There have been so many, haven’t there? Mistakes you wish you could take back. Mistakes you often use to define yourself. There are the things you’ve said to your kids; things you haven’t said to your kids; things you’ve done to or around your kids; and things you should have done but failed to do.
When you see other parents failing, you react with empathy. You say things like, “Almost every parent is doing the best they can for their children, given the circumstances and abilities of that parent.” Why don’t you think that also applies to you?
This year, I challenge you to be and think differently. You don’t define other people by their failures and you should give yourself the same grace.
Next time you want to jump down a self-doubt rabbit hole, try asking yourself this: how many of your failures have caused your beloved children lasting harm? Have you caused the type of harm that makes another person grow away from themselves? Have you hurt your kids in a way that makes them stop believing in the good in themselves or their own value?
Momma, you know you haven’t. You have failed in many small ways. But even then, you were teaching your children things. You’ve shown your children superheroes aren’t always super. You’ve shown them one can recover from mistakes and misdeeds. You’ve shown them one can mess up (or be a total mess) and still be loved.
You’ve shown them beautiful people know how to fail and grow, then fail and grow again.
Learning how to recover from failures is perhaps one the most important things a parent can teach a child. The only way to teach this lesson is to show them this lesson—to live this wisdom.
Perhaps hearing their mother say, “I’m sorry I yelled at you and made you feel ashamed. I let my anger win. That wasn’t right. I will try to do better in the future. I love you forever,” will grow their emotional intelligence in a different way than your good deeds do—not a better way, but an equally important way.
Maybe when you show them we are all hopelessly flawed, they will be more likely to believe they are loved in spite of their flaws. Maybe they will bring their whole selves to you as they continue to grow.
Keep failing and growing.
Writing that little note to myself was heavy. Much like parenting, it wasn’t easy. But, it felt good. It felt like a better way to kick off a new year than making a bunch of resolutions. This felt more productive.
I invite my fellow parents to try this approach. It’s OK to abandon resolutions and make way for a more positive and productive tradition. If you could write a letter to something you want to let go, what would you write to? If you were to write a letter to something positive, what would you embrace in 2023?
The truth is, all parents are fighting hard battles with themselves. Most of us want to be the most amazing people we can for the sake of our children. When you love your kids like crazy, no amount of love or effort can seem good enough.
But, beautiful parent, I assure you of this: you can keep failing and growing and still be more than good enough. If you keep growing and showing humility to yourself and others, your kids will grow into the sorts of humans you always wished they would be.
Here’s to embracing failure and growth in 2023.