We’ve all had them. Moments in our lives when an incident – a small mistake, a misunderstanding, a close shave or the tiniest lapse in our vigilance – left us feeling and reeling as if we were the worst parents in the world.
Maybe, at that moment in time, we were bad parents. Or possibly we got things slightly out of proportion in our desire to be good parents to the children we love. Look at them now. The kids are fine. No harm done – just a perpetual, groaning despair with ourselves whenever we reflect on how bad things could have been.
So let’s share a few cringeworthy bad parenting moments to remind ourselves that none of us are, nor can ever be, perfect parents. Let’s even indulge in a bit of schadenfreude and look at other people’s most shameful parenting moments to deflect the bad parent badge from ourselves. The following have happened to me, people I know (or friends of friends). For obvious reasons, names have been changed…
- Rachel and Andy had been proudly showing off their new baby daughter during their first supermarket shop as a family. Not yet realising they could have used the wider parents’ parking bays, after their shop, they loaded the boot with nappies and other baby essentials and headed out of the retail park. They were surprised by the incoming cars flashing and tooting them, and drivers screaming and pointing. Rachel glanced over her shoulder at the back seat and then asked her husband, who was driving, to slow down gently and stop. Their firstborn was in her baby carrier – left on the roof of the car.
- John, travelling on London’s Docklands Light Railway with his six year-old son and three year-old daughter (in a pushchair) was distracted by a phone call just as he alighted from the train. John bundled his son out at Island Gardens, realising too late as the automatic doors closed, that his daughter, still in her pushchair, was left on the driverless train as it glided around the bend towards Mudchute.
- It would seem that connections of mine are particularly careless, leaving behind children of various ages at school, in a restaurant, theme parks (notice the plural), at a leisure centre, a family-friendly festival, in pubs (plural again), at a bowling birthday party (someone else’s kid) and in the bagging area of Sainsbury’s. One three year old boy strayed into an open, empty lift in a large foreign hotel and pressed all the buttons, leaving his frantic parents searching and calling him in the lobby (never bad kid, always bad parents). These neglectful incidents were apparently due (mostly) to a breakdown in communication between responsible adults, rather than plain old amnesia.
- Jo found a mouse, which had fallen into an empty Amazon cardboard box, and wanted it out of the house. She rushed out of the front door with the box into the rain, still in her dressing gown whilst shrieking about the mouse. She shrieked even louder as the front door slammed shut behind her in the wind, leaving Joshua (2) and Amelia (4 months) locked inside.
Something to eat or drink?
- Kathy was rushing to assemble packed lunches for her daughters to take to junior school. She received a call from the school later that day to say that it was not appropriate for 6 and 8 year olds to drink Blue Bolt with their lunch (Blue Bolt being Sainsbury’s own label equivalent of caffeine rocket fuel, Red Bull). Her partner James had bought some tins and shoved them in the fridge next to the blue tins of apple fizz for the kids. Mum just didn’t register.
- Laura sent her daughter off to day camp with a packed lunch comprising the bag of waste food and vegetable scraps meant for recycling.
- A word of advice. Unless you are a professional hairdresser, if your child is over the age of three, NEVER cut his/her hair yourself in order to save time or money. It simply won’t be worth it.
- For a while when I worked in an office in London, there was a featured look for first time dads. A big, circular, red welt in the middle of the forehead – caused by Dad sticking an arrow or pointy thing with a sucker on the end onto his head and prancing about to impress his young child. Not particularly amusing for the child, but hugely funny for all Dad’s colleagues at work.
- An ambulance trundling onto the pitch at an U10s rugby tournament is always a terrible sight to behold. We all hope it’s not a serious injury and our hearts go out to the parents of the injured child. But when you’re a 10 year old scrum half warming up for the final and the ambulance has arrived for your Dad – we’ll that’s just embarrassing. Tony (43) fractured his leg, slipping in some mud as he carried coffee onto the sidelines. Not cool.
- More advice. If you’re over 40 and used to be fit, don’t think that you can impress your children and other parents by attempting to win the fathers’ race at school sports day (particularly if there are hurdles involved). Aiden (41), a fairly fit farmer broke his shoulder toppling over a hurdle, and five years later still has recurring pain.
- Me to Emily (5) nursing a broken arm: ‘Oh Emily, poor you! How did you break your arm?’ Emily to me: ‘Mummy did it. I was on a swing and Mummy was pushing me. Then I fell off and we had to go to hospital.’
- Sophie (5) at a busy barbeque event, circling the hostess and staring at her. Then yelling, ‘Mummy! Suzie doesn’t have two faces!’
Parenting fails don’t begin to get real until you have a fresh, young teenager living at home. By now, you’re duty bound to be as embarrassing as you possibly can, and this is surprisingly easy. Here’s a simple guide to maxing out on bad parenting of teenagers:
- Wear a hat (any)
- Wear a festive jumper at Christmas
- Sing, dance, clap, laugh in a loud voice
- Cheer them on in sport
- Drive around with the windows/roof down playing your favourite music
- Start a conversation with your teenager’s friends
- Walk with them in your local town centre – you could even accompany them to a shop to buy them something
- Look at them, making direct eye contact
- Drop off/pick up from a party at night right outside (not two streets away) – even better, ring on the doorbell and go in
- Hug, kiss or call them by their nickname in public
- Ask a teacher a question at a parents’ evening
- Turn up unexpectedly (anywhere)
- Just exist
99 per cent of the time, we ARE good parents. We DO care and we want what’s best for our children. We all learn from our mistakes and we live busy and stressful lives. We are human, and to be human we are inherently flawed. We cope by beating ourselves up over our own stupidity and the guilt, it would seem, stays with us to keep us in check.
So consign the ‘I’m a bad parent’ guilt trip to the back of your mind and sign up to GoMunkee. Find new and exciting things for your children to see and do, and distract them and you from the tricky art of being a parent.
© Annie Harrison.