Ah, yes, it’s the new year, the time when we look back on the past year through the haze of can-this-really-be-recycled foil Christmas wrapping paper and depleted bank accounts.
I’m sure I speak for all dads reading this when I say 2018 was a year of ups and downs, because every year is a year of ups and downs, every year is frustratingly imperfect, every year is a bit of a hair-pulling and glorious endurance test to get to the end, and once we hit the finish line, we kinda stare at each other in a confused daze, unsure of what just happened, taking a brief moment to take stock of how the year went, with all its ups and downs. And those downs are what’s on my mind today, but not because I’m wallowing in my parental mistakes of 2018; they’re on my mind because I want everyone to remember that we all make mistakes.
Being a parent is kinda weird because no one really wants to admit they’re making mistakes, no one wants to acknowledge that we’re all just flailing into the great void, hoping that whatever decisions we make end up making sense. No one wants to admit they haven’t done a less-than-stellar job at the most important job out there. It might have been losing your temper, or accidentally teaching your kid something that goes against your morals, or them seeing a friend’s swear-word-laden text on your phone (never happened to me, I swear).
But there’s nothing wrong with getting that stuff out in the open, and the new year is a good time to do it. Without examining what we did wrong this year, it’s a lot harder to improve in the year to come. This is elementary stuff, I realize, but it’s worth considering because, hey, I know as well as anyone how stubborn we all can be about admitting our mistakes, and especially our parenting mistakes. But we can lighten the load on ourselves a little bit, with the knowledge that all parents make mistakes. This can give us a bit of comfort and also some reassurance that we’re not alone in that odd feeling of pressure that accompanies parenting. And that’s why I like to talk about that side of parenting in this column: to remind us that we’re all in this together, and that we all struggle, and that we’re all doing all right.
Man, it started to drive me nuts after about the 200th person said to me, with a wink and a nudge, “You don’t get an instruction manual with the kid, eh?” But what they are most likely saying is, “Holy hell, are you feeling the strain as much as I am?” And the answer is, yeah, we all are. And we’re all making mistakes. And we’re all doing our best. It’s easy to think “doing our best is the best we can do,” but I do also try to better my best constantly, and to improve, and to do a bit better, which is why thinking about those mistakes can help.
But don’t forget that we’re not striving for perfection. This isn’t social media; this is reality. Don’t attempt to be perfect, because it’s just going to set you up for a fall. But do attempt to be the best parent you can be; attempt to be better than last year. Step it up a notch, but keep it realistic. Just do your damndest. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking other parents are doing it perfectly. I don’t think anyone is. And that’s just fine.
So this new year, look back on your parenting in 2018, as wonderful and, at times, head-shaking as it may have been. Be proud, because I’m betting you’re doing your best. Own those mistakes, because you’re going to learn from them this year. And, uh, tell your friends to stop swearing in texts. Young eyes see that shit.
Greg Pratt is the father of two children and a local journalist and editor. His writing has appeared in, among other places, Today’s Parent, Wired, Revolver, and Douglas.