While cleaning up the files on my computer, I came across the image above. It was taken a couple of years ago when I went back to my high school for a visit and sat in on the orchestra rehearsal. Mari was very nervous about all the strangers, so I let her sit on my lap while I played. What a great mom, huh? Yeah, I’m so cool and calm. My kids are behaved, securely attached and well-adjusted. I’ve got this motherhood thing in the bag.

Except I so totally don’t.

Look at Lucas there on the left, holding his adorable tiny violin and looking thoughtful. He wanted to play too, but couldn’t read music yet, so he sat and listened and tried to muster up the courage to attempt to play by ear. That’s the face he’s making there. He’s contemplating whether or not he should try to join in. How sweet, right?

Lucas does not play violin anymore. I ruined it for him by being an impatient, screaming nag. I tried to teach him myself, thinking it would be this great bonding experience for the two of us, and maybe it would like, cure him of his ADHD or something (quick, someone punch me in the face). But yeah. I ruined it by yelling at him and making violin the most stressful thing ever. Ugh.

Lucas has a natural inclination towards music, and I know he could have succeeded … with a different teacher. But now, just the thought of violin stresses him out. And before you suggest it, no, I am not doing that dumb parent guilt thing where I take a situation that wasn’t my fault and convince myself it was my fault because it feels better to blame myself than anyone else. Really. When I say I ruined violin for the kid, I am so damn serious. I was awful. I’ll be on my deathbed still roiling with guilt over how I ruined the damn violin lessons and probably permanently damaged the poor kid’s self-esteem.

Not that I don’t have my good parenting moments with Lucas. There are plenty of days, especially lately, when I am able to take a deep breath and remind myself that Lucas is not intentionally avoiding eye contact and twitching like a meth-addicted squirrel; he has ADHD. I understand ADHD so much better now, and I’ve learned to read Lucas and to recognize how far along the spectrum he’s skittered on a given day. I’ve learned the difference between defiance and distractibility, and I’m starting to realize that there are battles I shouldn’t bother trying to win. There are days better off lost to inactivity, because the alternative–clapping, yelling, encouraging (and failing), issuing consequences (and failing)–is too damaging to both of us. Sometimes the only thing to do is give up. I guess that’s the one thing I did right when it came to those damn violin lessons; I gave up.

Still, I think I will always look at this photo and feel the sting of the dichotomy of good mom, bad mom. I wish I could only be the good mom, but I think, like most everyone else, I am both. And this picture, although it appears to show me only as a doting, loving mother, doesn’t tell the whole story. When I look at it, I see the struggles behind it, the screaming and crying of those awful violin lessons. I see the concerned look in Lucas’s eyes as he tries to be brave enough to join in with the group. And I can’t help it–I see that look on his face and I think that maybe if I had been more patient, if I hadn’t yelled at him so much and crushed his little ego, that he might’ve had the courage to lift his violin and play with us that day.

This year we’re starting Lucas on guitar. But first, I’m going to find him a teacher who has more patience than I do. Recognizing my limitations and giving up control when appropriate? That’s me being a good mom.

Good mom, bad mom.

I am both.

19 Comments

  1. My kids are 22, 21, and 19. I could write epic tomes on how many times I’ve been both.

    Overall? My “worst” moments are when I’m impatient and frustrated with their innate characteristics (much like Lucas’ ADHD). Mine all suffer from depression/anxiety in varying ways, and to be blunt? It can be fucking exhausting handling them. I’ve yelled a bit much at times, and have been short tempered. But we work on these things. =)

    My “best” moments are when they say they have learned how to be a parent from me. (As opposed to my learning how NOT to be a parent from my bio family!) When they call me for advice on anything from the mundane (how the hell do I make sweet potato fries?) to the vital (should I join the Navy?). When they show affection in public and openly profess to being close to their mom. When they want to go batshit crazy ninja on anyone who hurts me. When they fight over who gets to be the one to give me a blood transfusion when it was thought I may need one.

    Kids need to know we’re not perfect. But watching us try to be the best parents we can encourages them to be the best they can be as well.

  2. Aww, I so feel the same guilt as you! My son is autistic and we face many of the same daily battles. My worst parenting moment came just after my divorce and I was a struggling single parent. I had to use the food bank for pantry items so I could use our last $50 for fresh fruit and meat. My son had been doing quite well with his sensory activities at school and wanted to continue them at home. While I was getting his baby sister bathed and put to bed, he had emptied the fridge and was “painting” himself. I remember screaming at him and making him feel so guilty about wasting our food. It took me years to undo the damage. He felt like he couldn’t eat more because he was so afraid that we would run out of food. Thankfully puberty hit and he loves to eat…and eat…and eat!
    I’ve come to realize that parenting is made up of moments…some good, some bad. We live for the good and try to learn from the bad!

    • It’s so tough when you’re SOOO frustrated but at the same time you know they’re not doing it intentionally to drive you crazy! I just had an instance with Lucas wandering out into traffic in the grocery store parking lot. ARGHHHHH. But there is nothing I can do short of putting a leash on him and/or screaming at him and yanking his arm before he gets hit. There is no logic involved, here. :-/

  3. Yep, been there sister. I have my own down-deep never-forget how awful I was memories, but is it amazing how resilient they really are. My son also showed an early affinity for guitar and I will never forget the poor aging rocker turned guitar teacher who showed up and tried to maintain his dignity as my three year old son bounced up and down on the couches. Needless to say we did not pursue guitar for at least another 6 months. 😉
    The other day as I tried to get my ADHD inspired 8 year old to do something complicated (like stand up )as he was spiraling out of control- running around, squawking, and falling down in front of me every 30 seconds- I looked at my husband and said, “it’s like living with drunk people all the time”. They don’t listen, they are falling down, making weird noises- like, what are you DOING!! Thanks for the laugh- great post.

    • Ah, yes, the difficulties of simply standing up like a regular everyday human. I am familiar with those difficulties. haha

  4. Oh my goodness, I am not alone.

    I am an excellent violin teacher. I am patient and fun and kind and have rescued many kids from a hatred of violin. But when I tried to teach my own daughter it was a dismal failure.

    I lost the patience. I lost the fun. i lost my temper and all sense of perspective, and I treated her like she was 12 years old and lazy instead of just 7. I realised I’d lost it when I asked her (in a fit of temper) “Do you really want to play violin or not?” and she replied “I don’t know. What do YOU want, mum?”.

    We stopped that day.

    I am still devastated.

    I love violin. Playing it and teaching it gives me such satisfaction and pleasure, and it breaks my heart that I stuffed that up for my girl. I started teaching her piano instead (which although I enjoy immensely isn’t MY instrument, IYKWIM) and she is loving it and advancing very rapidly! Next year she has agreed to try violin again with a new teacher because clearly I suck.

    Mummy on, sister. You are not alone.

    • Thank you for this. I am hoping one day Lucas will be willing to try with a new teacher. He was talented, and I did what you mentioned – treated him like an older, wiser student and forgot he’s just a little kid with ADHD. :-/

  5. Oh, girl, we’re all both. You just have the courage to admit it and the strength to do something about it. This right here is why I could never homeschool my kids (and I’m a teacher). Sometimes an outsider is better!

    • And to think I’m considering homeschool … I have this weird thing that I would rather yell at my kid than a teacher. It is VERY VERY hard not to yell at Lucas. Sometimes the yelling is not out of anger, but just because he DOESN’T F*CKING HEAR YOU if you don’t yell. lol

      • Oh my god, YES on the yelling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “do you like being yelled at?” “No…” “Well then why don’t you do what I ask one of the 70 times I ask nicely? Why do you ALWAYS ignore me until I yell??” Ay caramba.

  6. Yep, it was me Reply

    Mommy of the year??? Goes to me, I gave my 3 yr old a black eye last night. It was a complete accident-with tossing a sippy cup in the dark, but doesn’t make me feel any better that not minutes before that I was yelling for them to go to sleep and had to leave the room.

    • Oh man, I’ve totally hurt my kids before on accident, from moving too fast or just being clumsy. (But in all fairness, they have hurt me WAY more times!) haha

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  8. Ahhhh the original dilemma of motherhood! Nope, you do not have a corner on the market Kristen. Unfortunately this is a universal problem. Those beautiful people we created! We need to be perfect and do the very best by and for them! This is also where being human comes into play. So we do the best we can and forge on. I am working so hard at convincing myself to learn to play an instrument at the ripe old age of 53…. I wish I had done so many many years ago, and that I had encouraged it more in my own children. See?

  9. Totally good mom just for taking accountability. I too have an ADHD kid (I’m ADD myself). He’s 17 now, but I so wish, like you, I had even bothered to learn his nonverbal cues, ie. not making eye contact, instead of being a raging lunatic. I bet he’ll be a fantastic guitarist, and then he can play loud electric guitar, and payback’s a bitch 🙂

  10. Thanks for sharing this post. I think all good moms are bad moms sometimes. Some of us just don’t have the courage to admit our failures.

    My youngest has ADHD also, and I’ve definitely had some well-intentioned situations end up like your violin lessons. And I still feel horrible about each and every one of them.

    When she was younger she did not conform well to classroom expectations. I strongly considered homeschooling her, but my husband talked me out of it. Thank goodness! I can only imagine how much more often I would lose my patience with her if we spent all day together. 🙂

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