That's what she said. "You are horrible parents!"
Are we horrible parents? Yep.
Are we fantastic parents? Yep.
Let me back up and set the scene. It was over 100 degrees and we had been walking around the Washington D.C. monuments and museums for hours. It was the end of a 3-week vacation together. We were tired. We were hot. We were grumpy.
While we were walking along a path toward the Lincoln Memorial, Ben had started to lag behind and explore his surroundings. He often likes to stop to pick up interesting leaves, pebbles, sticks, etc. It's his speed. He's 6.
We were just in front of him and hadn't noticed he'd picked up two small sticks. We also didn't notice that he'd tossed one into the air and smacked it with the other (we just enrolled him in tennis lessons and this toss and smack is one of the things they practice). The small stick flew a few yards, in the general direction of two older women walking along the path behind us.
The stick did not hit them. But it got too close for their comfort. They proceeded to rush ahead, pick up the stick and begin following us yelling at Ben. Once they caught up to us they continued to yell, mostly at him. They never gave him the chance to apologize. They never gave us the chance to correct his behavior. They told us we (and I quote) "need to enroll that boy in tennis lessons or something to keep him from hitting sticks" and then came the zinger. As they began to walk away in a different direction they screamed
"YOU ARE HORRIBLE PARENTS, JUST HORRIBLE!"
I nearly cried.
We both were stunned. I'd never had anyone say I'm a horrible parent to my face. I'm sure people have thought it. Hell, I've thought it. But to have a complete stranger so adamantly declare her belief in my failure at the most important job of my life was humbling.
It kind of ruined my day, to be perfectly honest.
I went though some of the stages of parenting grief.
1. Denial - I thought she was just an angry old broad and blew it off.
2. Anger - Then I got angry that she would be so horrible to make my son cry for a mistake (albeit a poor decision on his part).
3. Bargaining - I talked myself out of being a bad mom by arguing that it was very hot and we were giving him space, etc. (arguing to myself, in my head, it was a long walk, I had plenty of time)
4. Depression - I was miserable. I wanted to cry. It really brought me down for hours.
5. Acceptance - I had an epiphany. Was I a bad mother? Yes. At that moment I probably was. And that moment was all that woman knew. For all she knew I let my kid throw sticks at strangers for fun. She didn't know me. She only saw one tiny moment in my life. And it wasn't a stellar moment. I should not have let him walk behind me. I shouldn't have let him pick up the sticks. I should have seen the flying stick coming. I could go on.
So yes, I'm a horrible parent. Sometimes.
And I'm a fantastic parent. Sometimes.
What I've realized is that they don't have to be mutually exclusive.
We are all human. I wish we could learn that labels aren't ever perfectly accurate. And they're usually not helpful. We just need to give it all we've got, love them as much as we possibly can and give everyone the freedom to be the best parents they can be. And sometimes that means they'll be "horrible".
Today, my kids both told me I'm the best mom ever. I'll take that.