Beware: There is no karma for parents.

>> Monday, May 7, 2007


I hate it when I do something mean as a parent. The meanness doesn't have to be grand and horrible and of the "no-more-wire-hangers-ever" variety. It just has to be mean enough to register in my mind that I shouldn't have done it. And the worst part is that karmic relief doesn't exist for parents. Receiving bad karma doesn't eliminate the regret or self-loathing.

The other night I put the girls to bed, and my oldest resisted. I told her she couldn’t keep playing this game (this is a nightly ritual) and that she had to stay in bed. Of course she started to follow me out, so I raced to the door. She was right on my heals as I got to the door. My thoughts were focused, you stay...mommy free. I weasled out the door and slammed it behind me. Right in her little face. There was no contact, but the look of pain on her face will be imprinted on my brain forever.

It didn't take long for me to feel like shit, and in case I didn't feel like shit, she came out to remind me. Sobbing, she looked right into my eyes and told me how I'd hurt her feelings. Again and again she told me. “You hurt my feelings! You hurt my feelings!” I picked her up and rocked her in the rocking chair and (looking right into her eyes) I told her I was really, really, sorry.

For about a minute I fought the urge to qualify my apology with the reasons I had for being mean in the first place. But my guilt caused me to cave. If I could convince her I was justified, maybe she'd see the logic of it all, feel better, and maybe even apologize to me. Then it would be like it never happened--like I'd never hurt her feelings at all and that it was all a big misunderstanding.

"I'm really tired tonight, sweety, and I read to you for 30 minutes before bedtime. It's already really late and my throat is sore." (Perhaps she'd sympathize with my physical ailments and succumb to my pathetic attempt to make her feel guilty.) She didn't look convinced, so I tried some honesty.

"Sometimes you guys wear me out. You've been very demanding tonight...asking me to get things for you constantly, and I just needed a break." She still wasn't convinced and I still felt horrible.

Finally, with tears and snot running down her face, she looked at the nice black Gap Perfect T I was wearing, and wiped her entire face on the front of it. Then she started to giggle and I knew that her pain was almost over. (I've learned, by the way, that allowing a sobbing child to smear snot on you really helps to cheer them up.)

After laughing and kissing and making up, I finally put her to bed an hour past her normal bedtime. I still felt bad, though, and I imagined all the horrible things that could happen to a child and how lucky I am to have her. That's one of the things that parents fear most. That something terrible will happen and we'll remember all things times we were mean to them, or chose to spend time away from them.

I was still sad when I went to bed, so it's no surprise that I didn't sleep well and had nightmares. When I awoke the next morning, I thought, "OK, this is the karma for being so mean. I had really horrible nightmares, and this is my punishment." But then I realized that I didn't feel any better. I’d been mean. I’d had bad dreams. I got my karmic slap, but I still felt bad.

And with some dawning horror, that’s when I realized that no parent can expect karmic relief for being a jerk. Overall, I’ve been a pretty good Mom. Sure I could use some improvement, and there are certainly moments that I regret. But I hug my girls many times a day. I tell them I love them everyday and often. And I think about being a parent and how I can improve. So, you know, “good for me”.

But what about parents who really don’t have their shit together? Parents whose personal issues prohibit them from being effective parents nearly 100% of the time? Parents who are jerks (or worse) on a regular basis? I can’t imagine the kind of hell they go through. I bet they’ve already learned that Karma will never ever help them.

Heaviness. God help us all.

Well. Before I lose myself in an overwhelming pit of despair, there is hope--I’m an eternal optimist--but it doesn’t come easy. At best, all I (or any parent) can do is hope to forgive myself someday. Even the forgiveness of our little ones doesn’t do it. In fact, when my little girls tell me it’s OK, I feel even worse. Their forgiveness somehow reflects and magnifies my inadequacies, and my pain intensifies.

I know this personal forgiveness thing works. I’ve done it before. After all, I did forgive myself for accidentally biting my little girl’s finger, right? (Didn’t I? Hmm...still feeling like crap about it. Shit.)

(Note to self: Be a perfect parent. Stop being mean. Hug them more.)

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