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well lived

Could “Good Enough” Be the Key to Great Parenting?

I’m building character in my children, one parent fail at a time.

Photo credit: Getty Images/Westend61

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“The tooth fairy forgot to come.”

Our very distraught daughter came into our room at 6 that morning to break the bad news. I had been sound asleep and couldn’t come up with anything helpful to say. “I think Daddy forgot to tell her your tooth fell out,” was all I could muster.

Yep, I threw him right under the bus.

I was devastated that my child was uttering the very phrase I so smugly assumed we would never hear her say. My husband and I are usually on top of these things. I spend the majority of my mental energy obsessing over everything I need to remember on any given day. This one had been at the top of my list the night before. What happened?

Parent fail!

As our daughter climbed into our bed, her sleepy body warm against mine, I pinched my husband hard several times on the side to wake him up and get him moving. As we both became more alert, I ditched my original story and found a new angle. “Maybe the tooth fairy couldn’t reach under your pillow. I bet there’s money in your room somewhere. Look around. You need to do better looking.”

Off she went to search for money that she was never going to find because it wasn’t actually there. I had just sent our poor daughter on a wild goose chase and accused her of being a “bad looker” when there was nothing for her to actually look for. In the meantime, my husband began tearing the house apart searching for cash.

The wheels were in motion for Plan B—Tooth Fairy Redux.

We located his wallet and my husband blindly plucked out the first bill he touched. A twenty.

Now, $20 is not the going rate for a routine tooth fairy visit in our house. Maybe for a first-time tooth loss or a professional extraction, but definitely not for a run-of-the-mill incisor.

My husband and I locked eyes, collectively contemplating our guilt.

Twenty it would be.

Together we staggered into our daughter’s room only to see her wandering around, pitifully looking under every stuffed animal and piece of paper in search of money.

My husband’s subtle nod toward our daughter suggested he wanted me to distract her. So I asked her if she had found her money yet. As her innocent, bright brown eyes met mine, my husband clumsily folded up the bill and threw it under her bed.

“Did you look under your bed?” he asked.

Smooth is his middle name.

He pointed to the floor where the money had landed. “There it is.” She spun around and saw the wad. “Oh! You found it!” she exclaimed with relief.

We have no shame.

Also, our daughter was 8. Did she really still think there’s a tooth fairy? How much longer must we keep up this charade? But I digress.

This parent fail is but one example of what I, and millions of parents like me, experience on a daily basis. If I add up all the water bottles I forgot to fill on those hot summer days, the permission slips I neglected to sign, the bake sales I never actually baked for… the guilt would kill me.

It’s a good thing no one is actually keeping score. Which is exactly what I remind myself every time I tell my kids to wear their socks from yesterday again today because I forgot to do the laundry.

I am reminded of the time I forgot to pick up our oldest from soccer practice. I was 15 minutes late and when I finally showed up, she was sitting all alone on a bench adjacent to the field, feet dangling, looking lost and sad.

“It’s a good thing no one is actually keeping score. Which is exactly what I remind myself every time I tell my kids to wear their socks from yesterday again today because I forgot to do the laundry.”
Julie Shapiro, writer and mom

Was she actually feeling as abandoned as she looked? Or was that just my guilt-ridden interpretation of what was going on in her head? Maybe in reality, her coping skills have been honed thanks to having an imperfect mother. Maybe I built character into my children through those moments that caused me to lose sleep at night. Maybe her feet were dangling because she was enjoying a quiet moment, humming a tune in her head and thinking her little girl thoughts.

Looking back, that’s what I pray for.

I know I’m going to continue to obsess over getting it all right—even though I know I never will—and keep my fingers crossed that my kids will learn it’s not the end of the world if their mom forgets to add money to their lunch debit cards.

I’m a mother. And like all moms, my heart is full, my intentions are good and I’m doing my best.

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Published May 8th, 2018

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