Failing Parenthood

I’ve failed at many things in my life, some major, some very minor and negligible. Even when I’ve failed at something that really doesn’t matter in the long run (burning dinner, for example), I feel a profound sense of inadequacy. Then I try to take a positive spin on it—determined to learn something from it or make the failure meaningful in some way (Like writing a blog about my cooking misadventures).

But every once in awhile, I feel so inadequate about my failures that there doesn’t seem to be any way to spin it. Like right now. I’m listening to my preteen sob her heart out and there’s nothing I can do or say to make it better. I’ve failed as a parent and there’s no worse feeling than that.

My preteen is crying because she’s disappointed and crushed and fearful all at once. She suffered from severe anxiety (still does) last year and had a difficult time in school. A difficult time getting work done, despite the fact that she is a creative and intelligent child. She had a hard time getting up in the morning, getting and staying motivated. She would run away from her problems instead of facing them, making them worse in the long run. She had difficulty coping with stress, dealing with organization, and making friends. She lacked confidence and a drive to succeed. We tried to help as much as we could, but it was frustrating and emotional for us—our oldest child never went through anything like that and we felt powerless to help her. We listened, we yelled, we sent her to therapy, we put her on medication, we hugged her, we cried with her. We did what we could, but maybe it wasn’t enough.

But despite all that, despite the obstacles that she had to overcome, she started off this school year as a new person. Her true friends rallied around her and helped her pull it together. She was confident and she smiled again. She sang in the shower and danced in her room. She was involved in school clubs and getting her work done. We cheered to ourselves, so proud of her and the mature girl she had become. We were stupid enough to think that the anxiety was just a phase, that the hard part of parenting her was in the past.

And then, just like that, she fell apart this week. All of her past fears came together this week in a perfect cocktail that sent her over the edge—a missing assignment, a bad grade, a falling out with a friend, bullies. She refused to go to school. She wouldn’t face her fears—instead, her defense mechanism was to bury her head in the sand until it went away.  And regardless of the fact that we tried to help again…tried to listen, tried to boost her spirits and make her feel better, we couldn’t do it. We failed…I failed.

I’m her mother. I was a 12 year old girl once, too, with all the feelings and insecurities she is going through now. I didn’t feel smart enough or pretty enough or skinny enough or enough of anything at her age. I felt stressed and overwhelmed. I dealt with bullies and isolation. I thought my life was the worst ever and I fell apart too. But I didn’t run from my problems. I pushed through as best as I could. And I survived.

I should be able to help her pick up the pieces. I should be able to make it better, simply because I was her thirty years ago and I made it through middle school—a little scarred, but in one piece.

And yet, I still can’t. I can’t make it better and take away the hurt as much as I want to. She has to discover her self worth and her strengths herself. No matter what I do, no matter what I say, it’s not going to change that. I can’t shield her from the misery of middle school, the pain of becoming a teen. And that is my biggest failure as a mother, one that I can’t change or put a positive spin on no matter what.



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