Stuff That No One Tells You

My Parenting Mistakes

What we can learn as moms from the aftermath of the Aurora, Colo. shootings

Photograph by Getty Images/Flickr RF

A few months before I left for college, my dad went on a drunken rampage and locked my mom out of the house as she was returning from work. The police arrived and escorted him out, but since they didn't have anything to keep him, he returned in the wee hours of the morning, still drunk, by breaking into our basement window.

I will never forget how he forced us to listen to his ridiculous rantings as we sat side-by-side on the couch. Most memorably, he blamed my mother for my sister's death.

"It was because your mother had taken her to our pediatrician!" he yelled, angrily. Even as a teenager without children of my own, I felt the sting. I had only experienced the pain of my sister's death through faded images in my mind, of her screaming as my mom changed her diaper. Of her smiling proudly as she stood for the first time propped up under our kitchen table.

We already lead our lives with the safety and security of our children as our foremost priority. We'd never purposely put them in harm's way.

And the shock that I never really questioned why she wasn't there any more, even though I was only 4 years old.

I didn't have the guilt I know now my mom must have felt. The dull pain, with peaks and valleys, that was probably present every single day of her life. And probably still is.

Apparently he thought my mom should have taken her to a specialist, who would have diagnosed her sooner—and would have saved her. But really, she had meningitis. And the series of choices my mom made found her in an ICU, turning off my sister's ventilator the day after my birthday.

This week I've seen debate, judgment and shaming of the choices that a few parents made when they brought their kids to the movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

But what I haven't seen is a discussion about what we parents should do when our choices negatively affect the lives of our children.

To me, the parenting lesson to be learned here is not "Kids shouldn't be at midnight showings of movies."

We already lead our lives with the safety and security of our children as our foremost priority. We'd never purposely put them in harm's way. And I'm pretty sure we'd do every single thing in our power to protect them.

But the truth is, as confirmed by this shooting: That's not enough.

And so a few parents breathe a sigh of relief in the form of judgmental words because it reassures them, unconsciously for most, that their kids are OK. They point fingers to ease their own anxiety, to control something that is uncontrollable.

But it's not about the time of the movie or the MPAA rating. Because those circumstances could be applied to every single decision we make as parents every day. And as my smart friend Julie Marsh noted, just because something horrible happened doesn't mean we made the wrong decision.

The parenting lesson here is learning how to cope with our choices, whether it's taking our child to a movie theater where they are senselessly murdered or allowing them to go to an overnight camp where they get bullied or abused.

I can't express to you the devastation I felt when I made the choice to let my oldest (22 months at the time) fall asleep on her own and she decided to jump out of her crib. Two broken bones later I was sick.

The parenting lesson here is learning how to cope with our choices, whether it's taking our child to a movie theater where they are senselessly murdered or allowing them to go to an overnight camp where they get bullied or abused.

Two months later she broke her collar bone because I chose to let her spin on our office chair.

I beat myself up over my choices, with her cast and inability to walk for almost 7 weeks as a constant reminder. And while most people told me "accidents happen" and that she wouldn't remember it (both true, by the way), a few wondered what I was doing, like how could I have put her crib on a hardwood floor. And why didn't I know that she could climb out. And how stupid I was to spin her in my chair.

I got over it, somehow, mostly with time.

And the takeaway was not "Make sure to put a carpet down under the crib on a hardwood floor."

I'm not so naïve as to think that at some point in one of my kids' lives, maybe all, my choices might not negatively affect them. I hope that it's not anything like what happened this week in Colorado.

But I do know that parenting is a series of choices and decisions, many of which are not sure bets. We study the odds and stick with the house. And hopefully we win. God I hope we win.

But if we don't, it shouldn't be about how we played.

It should be about what the hell do we do now.

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