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 backyard.
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 dysfunctional mother.
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 gift.
Melissa Black Ford is an Oak Park mom and parent educator.