Returning home from a Chicago Bears game a few
years back, I was basking in the glow of our family time together,
reflecting how we had enjoyed a real mom-dad-son-daughter
experience, when the evening took an abrupt turn for the worse. My
husband saw Jane Russell (our Jack Russell terrier) sprayed by a
skunk and quickly called her back into the house.
As I watched in horror, Jane sprinted through the front
door and took two laps around the entire downstairs, disseminating
the foul-smelling odor of skunk. Angry, out of control and
screaming incoherent threats at my husband, I grabbed the dog by
the scruff of her skunky neck and dragged her into the
It was dark outside and the neighborhood was quiet except
for my shrieking, swearing and belittling of my husband, who had
joined me in the de-skunking of Jane. I knew I should save my angry
words for later, but I kept on shouting even as our kids watched
from inside the house. Finally, I pulled myself together when I
realized that I, not my husband, looked the fool. Yeesh! Another
example of imperfect parenting at its finest.
One of the sobering realizations of parenting is that you
are always "on." Parenting is a 24/7 job replete with role modeling
opportunities at every turn. That's why parenting is so
challenging-because our children are always watching us, learning
and imitating. Case in point: I've constantly lectured my children
to be respectful and kind to others, to give people the benefit of
the doubt and be accepting rather than judgmental. Yet what was I
doing as I screamed at my husband? Role-modeling disrespect,
judgment and anger.
For a long time after the skunk encounter, I felt
embarrassed remembering my behavior. Here I was, the parent who
always tried to be a good role model, being a potty-mouthed,
unhinged madwoman. I concluded that my kids had lost all respect
for me. I imagined they were even embarrassed I was their mom. And
how could I tell them to be respectful of others when they had
watched me lambaste their dad?
A few years after the skunk fiasco, my son Max and I were
reminiscing about favorite family vacations, outings and happy
childhood memories. Max confided his best childhood memory (the one
he would never, ever forget): "You ripped into Dad! You shredded
him! Remember the skunk attack? That was the funniest thing you
ever did, Mom. You were crazy!" As he sat there laughing, I was
stunned, realizing that Max found the whole situation hilarious
rather than hurtful.
All those times I had felt ashamed about my conduct, Max
had apparently been fondly reminiscing about his emotionally
Wow! I wasn't a bad mama, but rather a good mama (with her
faults), who created wonderful childhood memories. So my
foaming-at-the-mouth performance would go down in history as one of
my son's best childhood memories. Who knew I was such a
Melissa Black Ford is an Oak Park mom and parent
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