It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Shit happens

When my son was just a toddler, he was playing with his cousins at his grandparents’ house when one of the older cousins tossed a wooden block down the stairwell. Adam, who was at the bottom, caught the block in his forehead. He has a scar there to this day.

When we were camping one summer, my then 10-year-old daughter spilled near-boiling water on her ankle, raising blisters in a shockingly short period of time. (She bears no scars.)

While we were walking through our neighbourhood years ago, another daughter reached down to pet a very cute little dog, and it snapped at her, breaking the skin on her thumb. (I grabbed the rotten little thing and checked: its tags indicated its shots were up to date. Phew.)

I sat on the curb and watched my daughter wobble down the street on her new bike. She turned to smile at me, lost her precarious balance, and landed in a tangled heap under the thing. It took half and hour to ease the grit out of the abrasions.

Tobogganing with the family, son and daughter crash into each other. A bloody nose (daughter) and a black eye (son) were the untidy result.

Between the two of us, my husband and I have eight children. We have seen more blood, scrapes, sprains, strains, bumps, bruises, contusions, concussions, barfing, dislocations, beans up noses and beads in ears than most.

But something that many kids will teach you, is that there is no place for guilt in any of this. At no point in any of the little dramas listed above, did I ever feel guilty. Not that it had happened, not that I hadn’t managed to prevent it. Because, you know? With kids? Shit happens.

And yet, even if the mother isn’t one to assume unnecessary guilt, the assumption is that she will, even that she should. I know a mother whose son suffered a broken arm while she was out of town. She told a group of mothers about it, and the mom-to-mom support network, that marvellous thing, kicked right in. They all offered words of kindness, except … all of them assumed that she was feeling guilty.

Why would they do that? The child was with his father. His loving, wise, involved father. Child took a tumble, as five-year-olds will do, and ended up with a broken arm.

Shit happens.

But if the mother correct them, “Oh, I’m not feeling guilty!”, she risks being judged as an inferior mother, because, I mean, how could she be so unfeeling?

I was telling this to my daughter and a friend. “I don’t understand why she was expected to feel guilty,” say I. “She wasn’t even there.” My daughter didn’t get it, but her friend did.

“Because she wasn’t there.”

Oh, of course. Omniscient mom should have known this was going to happen, and should have stayed home, so that Omnipresent mom could be there at the significant second, and Omnipotent mom could have prevented it.

I have news for you guilt-ridden moms out there: We’re not gods. We’re not even near perfect. And that’s as it should be. Children hurt themselves, and it’s nobody’s fault. Yes, there are exceptions to this, of course. Clear cases of negligence, abuse, even, but that’s not what we’re talking about today, and don’t be imagining that a split-second’s inattention, or leaving your child with another loving adult constitutes negligence. Good lord.

The bumps and bruises of life will buffet your child, and what they learn from that is how to manage, how to dust off and proceed; what they need from you is your calm support, not your weeping and “I should’ve/I shouldn’t have’s”.

Here’s the thing. Yes, we want to protect our children from serious bodily harm, of course. We want them to achieve a whole and healthy adulthood. But our goal is not to prevent all injuries, physical or emotional. Our goal is to show them how to deal with the stuff that life deals out, with the consequences of bad decisions, with the random unpleasant stuff that happens — through no fault of anyone’s.

Because, in life? Shit happens.

April 7, 2008 Posted by | health and safety, parenting | | 16 Comments