On Parenting and Imperfection: My Worst Parenting Fear by Shannon Lell

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Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.

Today, I’m excited to share this space with my friend, Shannon Lell. And, look, there are a lot of reasons I love Shannon, not least of which is the tag line on her blog which reads, “When we are our authentic selves, we give others the unspoken permission to be the same. In Truth, there is freedom,” because, oh my word, that is SO what we do here, right?

But I feel like, to give you a true taste of why I LOVE love Shannon, I must share our private correspondence with you. It goes like this:

From: Shannon
To: Beth

Oh Beth. I’ve been on vacation since Friday. We had a wedding down in California wine country and we didn’t take the kids. Sooo, that should tell you that mama danced her toosh off for 3-4 hours straight and drank entirely too much wine over a 3 day period for which I am paying dearly for in more ways than one. 

1) I can barely walk b/c my thighs are on fire from dancing.
2) I managed to fight off a monster sinus infection that is so pissed off right now it is making me nearly incoherent with pain. 

I feel like an amateur. A fraud. Like I should have trained for this weekend somehow with shots of tequila and zumba. I am a shell of my former self.

From: Beth
To: Shannon

If you ever decide to start a tequila/zumba training regimen and need humans to experiment on, I’m your girl. 

I hope you feel better very, very soon.

B

From: Shannon
To: Beth

 I think we have a nice little business idea. Boot camp for drinking in your thirties. Seriously, we can alternate tequila and vitamin C shots while doing calisthenics while wearing two sets of Spanx. I would totally pay for that shit. 

From: Beth
To: Shannon

Toss in a case of industrial strength of Depends and I’m SO IN.

From: Shannon
To: Beth

I GOT IT…. SPANX WITH ABSORBANT DISPOSABLE LINERS!!! BOOM… we’re millionaires.

From: Beth
To: Shannon

GENIUS. I’m opening a Kickstarter. Also, we’re OBVIOUSLY going to need an awesome video to go along with it. You and I will be the models. It’s going to be HOT.

So there it is in a nutshell, friends. I love Shannon because a) she’s going to make me easy millions, b) she needs me to model in a Spanx with Absorbant Liners dance video (DREAMS DO COME TRUE), and, c) she implied I’m in my 30’s! Which I totally am, since 39 11/12 counts, man.

Welcome to this space, Shannon. I’m so glad to have you here.

Beth

……….

My Worst Parenting Fear
by Shannon Lell

My husband has a long-time friend who is a police officer. We’ll call him Calvin. Calvin is an honorable, moral, upstanding person. One day Calvin was lamenting about how he works so much overtime and at such odd hours that he doesn’t spend enough time with his family. I asked him why he doesn’t just call in sick one day and he told me he would never do that because it would be a lie. Indeed, he is the exact sort of person you want carrying heavy weaponry with a license to kill.

Calvin is adopted. He is the oldest son of four children and his parents are still married and both highly educated. His two younger brothers (Ivan and Aaron) are biological children of his parents and they all grew up in the same home going to the same Catholic private school. Ivan is the middle brother and he’s a patent attorney in Washington, D.C.. Aaron has two sons by two different women, both of which his parent’s are helping to raise. Aaron is currently in jail for dealing drugs.

Then there’s the story of my 1st cousins. They are three biological siblings all from the same parents growing up in the same house.  They lived in a small town and their mother was a homemaker. The middle child, Brandon, is (once again) a police officer. The oldest child, Danielle, is living in near poverty with a drinking problem and the youngest, Anna, is an award-winning urologist at The Mayo Clinic.

Those two stories, combined with my own family history, encapsulate my worst parenting fears. That this whole thing is a crap-shoot.

That it doesn’t matter how many books I read, how many educational apps I buy for my iPad, how much I spend on extra-curricular activities and art supplies, or how many organic vegetables and hours of sleep I’m able to coax onto my children… my children have the same odds of ending up on skid row as they do being a renowned surgeon.

I know what some of you may already be thinking. It’s the same thing I’ve said to myself to assuage this dread.

 All I need to give my children is love. All I can do, is the best I can.

I want to believe that is true. Because those are things I’m already doing. I love them with everything I have and I’m doing the very best I can. But deep down I know, even that is sometimes not enough.

You see, my parent’s loved me while I was growing up. They still do. And they did the very best they could with what they had. I know this. But all of that wasn’t enough to stop me from making some unfortunate mistakes. Mistakes so dire, so potentially deadly and dangerous that it is only by the grace of God that I am where I am today. If you look at me and my siblings we are all on different planes in life too. Very different.

All of these stories have me grappling to make sense of parenting because it is the ONE job in this life where I pray I can succeed. I find myself wanting to understand the odds. I’m inspired to read smart books and save lots of money so that I can make educated choices and send them to great schools. Feeling desperate to safeguard my children against devastating potentialities of lives lived in pain and suffering.

Worst Parenting FearAnything else has me feeling powerless, and powerlessness is a cold and frightening terrain. Powerlessness feels like very little oxygen inside a cave that’s growing darker by the minute.

This reality that the fate of my children’s lives is a total crap-shoot morphs into one big, pathetic excuse:

We can’t afford private school so I say, “Well, parenting is a crap-shoot anyway, might as well go to public.”

I have a shitty day and ignore and/or snap at my children, “Oooh well, parenting = crap-shoot, doesn’t mean I’ll scar them for life.”

I get a little too excited when my 2-year-old labels his letters correctly, “Pfft,  crappy, crappity, crap-shoot, doesn’t mean I’m doing it right.”

I get a little too frustrated when my kid melts-down in the grocery store checkout line, “This sh!t is such a f*$%ing crap-shoot, doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong.”

It’s a useful excuse for almost any parenting insecurity you can think of. It instantaneously absolves you of responsiblity by putting your children’s fate in fate’s hands.

But that’s not how I want to parent. It’s not even how I want to live. I don’t want to put all my cards in the deck of complete pre-determination. I want to have an impact. I want my hard work to pay off. I want my children to be happy, well-adjusted contributors to society. I want that. I want that more than I want excuses and apathy.

I’ve searched my soul for something more comforting than “crap-shoot” to ease my fears about my children someday ending up on skid row. There is only one reasonable answer that brings me any margin of comfort. It is respect.

The R.E.S.P.E.C.T. find out what it means to me kind of respect.

My children will make mistakes. My children will fall off wagons, jump off bridges and take the low road more times than I even want to contemplate. We all do. It’s inevitable, really. But if they respect their parents; if they value our opinions; if they feel bad when we are disappointed because they enjoy our approval… then that is something.

But here’s the problem with respect. Respect is not merely given. It isn’t something that you can control, command or demand. Respect happens when the person you are is the person someone else strives to emulate. And, sadly, that has nothing to do with parenting and everything to do with one’s own sense of integrity and self-worth.

In the end, respect is something you must first have for yourself, before you can earn it from others… especially your children. As far as I can tell the best strategy I have against safeguarding my children from the more difficult paths in life is to inspire their respect for me. No small feat I assure you. Because respecting my wishes by remembering to take off their shoes in the doorway, versus caring how disappointed I’ll be if they have sex with their highschool girlfriend, are two separate levels of respect in my mind.

One is common courtesy, the other is having a bond that acts like kryptonite on teenage hormones and peer pressure and we all know how strong those things are. They are the two singular forces responsible for a $1.6 billion dollar company called YouTube.

So how do I get this kind of relationship with my children? How do I inspire their respect for me so that they hear my voice during difficult decisions? Must I be flawless in front of them? Must I exemplify perfection and make every right decision?

No. That’s just too damn much to ask from any human being especially not one who suffers from chronic tardiness and likes french fries because they come with ketchup.

The people I have the most respect for in life are not perfect. In fact, they are usually the most flawed. But to me, respect means humility. It means grace. It means saying I’m sorry, I was wrong, can you forgive me? and I forgive you, and why don’t we  try to do better next time because trying is the most important thing. Not perfection, just trying.

To me, self-respect is knowing you’re not perfect, and yet believing you were perfectly made.

It is something I remind myself of daily because if I can believe it — really, truly believe it… then hopefully, someday, they will too. And if they do… then I can put my fears to rest because I will have succeeded at my job as their mom.

……….

ShannonLellShannon Lell is a fallen corporate ladder climber turned writer and stay at home mother. She writes introspective pieces on personal and social issues and she tries to use just enough sarcasm so that you don’t think she’s emotionally unavailable.

……….

You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection posts here.

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
15 comments
  1. love this so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! both the post and the discussion in the comments. 🙂 shannon, you have a new fan in the philly area. can we still attend boot camp even if we skipped out on the original younger partying for the most part? 😉 xo

  2. Two questions, one for you, one for me: 1.) Can I please take that crash course in drinking and dancing you’d mentioned in your email exchange? I have a girl’s weekend coming up in LA and I’m scared for my life. Not while there, of course. That, as the song says, will be the time of my life. It’s the aftermath… 2.) Can I please remember this on a daily basis? Respect yourself. Know you’re not perfect. Believe that you are perfectly made. Love this, thank you.

  3. I can relate so much to Shannon’s post–of course. And how fun to see the email exchange!

  4. I think you should drop the idea of “success” from parenting. There is no awards ceremony or finish line or measuring stick. Because what you will realize as your kids grow older is that the real job is shepherding them through their stages of development and nurturing them as they grow and separate from you. And part of that has to include the understanding that you, as a fallible human being, are not responsible for the well being of another adult who has free will and is also a fallible human being. And life happens. And life cannot be controlled by you like your toddler’s nap time. I think that the best you can hope for is that no matter what circumstances your kids run into as they age, they will know that you will be together on the journey and will support each other along the way. And then they’ll pick a really nice nursing home for you that doesn’t smell and has chocolate pudding on Sundays. And maybe some show tunes in the activity center.

  5. Love this…Shannon, you are in my head. I totally rationalize all those lazy, done-with-it, hit-the-wall, can’t-be-patient-anymore days/hours/weeks/moments with crap shoot philosophy. It isn’t how I want to live either.

    I often say that it isn’t good enough for me to “do my best.” Why? Because MY MOM did her best. And some scary, bad sh** happened to me as a result of that. “Best” is not what I am aiming for. Plus “my best” is so vague and fluctuates so rapidly it’s a moving target.

    I’m not aiming for excellence either (the idea of ‘perfection’ makes me snort unattractively through my nose). And while “good enough” is probably what my therapist would recommend, most days that doesn’t work either.

    I’m aiming for REAL. That I can do.

    And here’s the thing: we often don’t know what success or failure looks like, not really. I mean babies by two different women, jail time, ok, I hear you. Drugs, sure, that’s terrifying. But in the cosmic-only-God-knows-our-hearts scheme of things, sometimes what looks on the outside like massive failure is actually not. It’s that whole unknown, God/Grace/the Holy …that stuff. We don’t know.

    But if I can show up, and own my limits, and be my whole, messy, imperfect, wounded self, then maybe God can work with me. And make it good. That’s all I’ve got. I hope, hope, hope it’s enough, because I’m terrified too. On bad days, I tell myself that at least I might get lucky enough to go WITH my daughter to therapy when she’s 35 so I can apologize IN PERSON.

    Thank you for your post! And for the lovely drinking camp, cabana boy fantasy. That was really good. I want one of those little umbrellas in my drink. And lots of ice. And to not have to share my drink with ANYONE or have ANYTHING spilled on me.

    1. “But if I can show up, and own my limits, and be my whole, messy, imperfect, wounded self, then maybe God can work with me. And make it good. That’s all I’ve got. I hope, hope, hope it’s enough, because I’m terrified too.”

      YES. This. Exactly.

  6. I have had extensive conversations with my sister involving the “crap shoot” idea of parenting. It goes something like this, “what the hell is the point of parents?!” ” We’re screwed no matter what we do” You can hear/read of people’s success stories or failure stories and microscope them to do death and where they came from and what kind of parent’s they have/had…….it goes on and on. In fact, I have a brother who has his own idea of the reality we all grew up in and it doesn’t match any of the rest of the siblings ideas of how we grew up. Unfortunately, he’s a bit estranged from the family right now and it will take a special kind of miracle to have an honest and non-volatile conversation take place between all of us. This parenting thing can feel very hopeless and scary, in a spinning out of control kind of way most days for me.

    The whole respect idea is amazing and Shannon articulated that really well and I completely agree! Thanks, except now I need some sort of miracle to get to that point where I respect or at least even like myself. I just came to the realization the other day that I don’t really like or love myself and that leaves me feeling completely defeated and hopeless in this whole parenting gig. I know what I want to be as a mom: I sooooo strongly desire that bond with my kiddos and that relationship that is real and honest and gracious and yet I’m no where near it. This sucks. Hey Shannon, maybe throw one of those prayers in the bag for me too. Looks like I’m gonna need it.

    Thanks for being hilarious and real. it helps ease the tension and scariness by A LOT.

    1. I love your honestly SO MUCH, April. Did you see this comment by Liz? Because, yes, this: “But if I can show up, and own my limits, and be my whole, messy, imperfect, wounded self, then maybe God can work with me. And make it good. That’s all I’ve got. I hope, hope, hope it’s enough, because I’m terrified too.”

    2. April: Yes, you incredibly honest and the fact that you were willing to share your honest feelings here means that you are so much more brave than you give yourself credit for and that is not nothing… that is something. Can I be completely honest with you? Today… as in a couple of hours ago I realized how insecure I have been as of late. How desperately, unflatteringly, sadly, pathetically insecure. I’m insecure because I’m scared. I’m scared of not being good enough for my children, for my husband, for my job, for you. I’m scared of never being capable of writing all the things I need to write in the exact way I want to write them.

      My point is… you are not alone. EVERYONE graples with feelings of self-hatred and self-doubt. But do you know what separates you and me? We have the bravery to speak our truth. And that truth is like a lighthouse in the dark and scary ocean, calling like-minded ships to your shore. Here I am, April. Dropping anchor. Now please hand me a strong margarita with a little umbrella because I’m probably going to get tipsy before I deal with any of this baggage on my boat.

  7. I don’t know if I’ve ever thought of parenting as a “crap shoot”, though I do feel the pressure to “succeed” that you refer to. I guess, I have to back up a bit and figure out what exactly my definition of success is when it comes to my parenting. I cannot control the decisions that they will make, either now or far into their future, but I can guide them gently and model the path that I believe to be the best. I cannot control their feelings, but I can teach them how to process those feelings so that they are not controlled by them. I cannot make them love me or respect me or listen to me but I can love and accept them where they are at and hope that they will be aware of that love and acceptance so that they can feel I am a safe place to visit when they are struggling.
    It’s all so easy to say. Still I constantly feel like a failure.
    I was one of those failures you listed above. I struggled with life and was a huge disappointment to my parents. I was not raised in an environment of unconditional love. And yet, I have managed to come out on the other side. I don’t know how I am going to share all this with my children one day. I don’t want them to ever think of their mother as someone who has done deplorable acts, but I do try to show them even now that I am human, so that they will be able to view their faults as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks.

    1. Stacey: I hear you loud and clear. I, too, believe that sometimes “failures” aren’t “failures” at all, but stepping stones. Lord knows I messed up something awful from time to time and I won’t even say I still don’t… because I SO do and only the Lord knows me. But from a parenting perspective, it has to be excruciating to watch your child suffer under the weight of addiction and poor choices and that is what I hope to not have to watch and that is undercurrent of my fears. That there is nothing I can do to stop something from that happening. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

      I feel that the only preventative measures (besides a lot of prayer) is to BE the kind of person they look up to. And that has nothing to do with them, and EVERYTHING to do with me. In a way, it’s liberating, but also scary because that means I have to be real, and honest, and brave and vulnerable and say hard things like… I’m sorry… I was wrong… can you forgive me?

      It’s easier to make sure they eat their veggies and do their homework than to be a raw, real. vulnerable person.

  8. […] funny (at least to me) which you get a sample of in the prologue to my post. So go on over and check out what keeps me up at night when it comes to being a parent. I’d love to know what you […]

  9. I love this. The crap-shoot kinda freaks me out too. My oldest is 14 and has honestly been a very easy kid. I keep waiting for skid row or something horrible that proves all teenagers are nightmares. I even put a sign tucked up by his skylight that says I love you no matter what. That’s the voice I want him to hear and I’m hoping it will be helpful for me to have it written down….just in case.

    Thanks for sharing this and where do I sign up for the tequila/zumba class if the whole night can be done by 9pm and comes with a cabana boy who lets us sleep in the next morning and brings us breakfast in bed.

    1. Heather, I think I speak for both Shannon and myself when I say we’d like to put you in charge of all future Tequila/Zumba programming. The addition of a cabana boy is nothing less than inspired.

      Speaking of cabana boys, Greg and I considered putting in an in-ground pool many years ago, before we realized a) that costs money, b) we don’t have money, and c) we’re far too irresponsible to care for a pool. We decided we are DEFINITELY putting in a pool as soon as we make enough money to afford both the pool and the cabana boy to take care of said pool and to bring me drinks whilst I lounge about reading vampire smut. In other words, never. But it’s a good dream. Thanks for bringing back that memory.

      P.S. I love the sign in your son’s skylight. That’s the voice I want my kids to hear, too. xo

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