owning my shit: surviving the worst parenting moments

July 23, 2012 | 58 Comments

Girl at the beach

I had a conversation with my mom shortly after Emma was born. Back when we were still speaking. As usual, we were rehashing the past. She chided me for confiding in my childhood friends, angry they seemed to hate her as a result, making her feel uncomfortable in her own home. “They weren’t your stories to tell, Shannon.”

I disagreed with my mom: her choices became my stories because of how they clouded the climate of our home. I had every little girl right to whisper my hurts and fears into the sanctity of the slumber-party darkness. I told her that if and when I hurt Emma, part of Emma’s healing may be shouting my short-comings from roof tops, and it would be my job to embrace the process. Own my shit.

Last November, a couple months after we moved to BC, Steve was on day six of a ten-day trip for one of his speaking gigs as Guru of the Geeks. Emma and I were doing well and I was pleased with how seamless my single-parenting seemed to be going. I made her tomato soup for supper and prepared it our favourite way: overflowing with broken soda crackers so every bite has more cracker than soup. I surprised her with a steaming bowl up in her room and told her she could eat while watching a show on her computer, but to be careful. It sounded like a treat, but it was pure selfishness, giving me a chance to zone out, kid-free, downstairs with my own episode of something.

I had just settled in, bowl and spoon poised, when Emma called out in distress, “Mom! I spilled!” Steve and I encourage Emma to be honest about her messes instead of trying to hide them in fear of our reaction. I took a couple of deep breaths and, as I headed up the stairs to assess the damage, reminded myself to be gentle, encouraging continued disclosure.

I was not prepared for the sight of the entire contents of her bowl spread out over the duvet she had on the floor. I swear to god I heard my sanity unplug itself from its socket and felt it repeatedly stab my brain tissue with the tines. I said something accusatory and more yelly than intended. Emma looked at me with her “What the hell, Mommy? YOU SAID I SHOULD ALWAYS TELL WHEN I SPILL” saucer eyes. And then she side-stepped into the pile of bloated crackers and soup. My sanity hurled itself from my body and left the city. I split in two. One part yelled more and louder while the other floated above, watching, completely helpless. Emma began to cry and yell back, begging me to stop yelling.

I knew if I didn’t leave, I would say more regrettable things and possibly do something unforgivable. So I did. I left. But I slammed the door as hard as I could on my way out. I heard something fly off her door handle and went back in to see what. Reentering her room, I stepped on it, splitting apart her “Emma Kristy Fisher, September 11, 2002, 9:15am” custom cut and painted, wooden doorhanger gift. I was embarrassed and already on a roll, so I yelled a little more, just in case I hadn’t been destructive enough.

Emma and I made eye contact. Her face revealed a brokeness I wasn’t prepared for.

I ducked out again, still unable to trust myself. I was shaking. I walked down the hall, confused how I had turned a manageable moment into a scene from The Exorcist. Hot shame replaced the storm of rage in me. I heard loud, lonely sobs from behind her bedroom door.

I scurried back down the hall and scooped her up. We rocked and cried and cried and rocked. I stroked her hair and apologized to the rhythm of our rocking. I told her my behaviour was awful and assured her she didn’t deserve any of it. I reminded her she was precious and a reaction like mine is never okay. I whispered every endearing coo I could think of.

It was the awfulest. I’ve had a handful or two of ugly parenting episodes, but never have I felt so detached from everything good and right.

A few months later Emma and I were out for lunch with our friend, Andrea. Something we said reminded Emma of The Great Soup Spill of 2011. She started to tell Andrea about it and stopped herself. She looked at me apologetically, and for permission to continue.

“Hey, Em, it’s okay. If you want to talk about it, you go ahead.”
“Are you sure, Mom? I don’t have to!”
“If I’m gonna act like that, I gotta own it. Maybe it’ll make us both feel better if we keep talking about it? It could be healing.”

And so she told Andrea the story. In all its gory details. She even went on to tell about a few of my other less-than-sparkly moments, because why not! I listened and periodically cringed. And somehow, maybe because it really was so unbelievably awful, we found ourselves laughing in spots. Like, yeah, holy fuck, that really happened and it was The Worst, but I still love you and you still love me and look at how okay we are and how okay we will always be. And we hugged and shared I love yous and, somehow, Andrea remained my friend and didn’t report me to Child Services. Yet.

I was given an opportunity to rewrite history, and I snatched it up good. I participated in my girl’s healing after being the instigator of her hurt. It was powerful to realize such things are possible outside of Hollywood. Raising kids under the best of circumstances is terrifying, but when you’re rooted in any kind of dysfunction, you fear you’re sure to fuck your kids up in all the same ways. It’s just not true. At least is doesn’t have to be.

I love you, my sweet Emma. Thank you for your big heart, full of forgiveness.

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Join the conversation

  • http://Dangerously.ca Jesse

    oh my gosh what a breath-taking read. it was very, very brave to be so candid about such an unhappy moment.

    I know there were times my mom got too angry with me, for reasons that weren’t my fault and probably weren’t hers either, and I still love her just the same; but that level of ownership is something I’ve never seen.

    I’m really impressed.

    • Shannon

      Thanks, Jesse. I wondered if it was appropriate for a first post, but it just kinda spilled out of me yesterday and I thought, why not get down business right off the hop! Thanks for being in my cheering section. It’s great to have you here!

  • Shannon

    Thanks, Jesse. I wondered if it was appropriate for a first post, but it just kinda spilled out of me yesterday and I thought, why not get down business right off the hop! Thanks for being in my cheering section. It’s great to have you here!

  • http://www.bigloveforgirlsatrisk.wordpress.com Kim Berube

    1. i am totally jealous of your writing ability.
    2. the best gift my mom ever gave me, was the willingness to own her shit. it made me be able to do the same for my kids. smart. smart. woman.
    3. i think you are such an amazing mother to that lucky little girl.
    4. DAMN. GLAD you have a blog I can read again.
    xxoo Kimmie

    • Shannon

      Thanks, Kimmie! And how on EARTH did I miss that YOU have a new space on the webs?! I’m so SORRY! I’ve been over there skimming. I wanna hunker down with it and dig in a little. Yay that I can read you, too! xoxoxo

  • http://www.3bed2bath1baby.blogspot.com Julia

    Oh dear. I have had moments like this with Ethan as well. And he doesn’t even talk yet. He cries when I don’t want him to for something that he needs and I’m like OMG can I just finish this ONE THING??

    Then I look at him, and melt and feel like a generally crappy person.

    Good for you for allowing your kiddo to share an experience that was less than flattering with the hopes that both of you can heal from the experience!


  • http://hellofisher.com Steve Fisher

    Our Emma is lucky to have you as a mom. I’m lucky to have you as a friend. Now the world is lucky to have you as a writer again.

    • Shannon


  • http://www.chillmamachill.com Babe_Chilla

    So nice of me to stop by for the first time while at work and SOB at my desk. I have done this type of thing. And I know how you feel. Sigh.

    • Shannon

      Friend_Chilla! You came. Wow. Thanks. It means oodles. Sorry to make you cry at work. At least it wasn’t your boss. There’s that! Yeah, I’m sure EVERY parent has done this kind of thing. And if they haven’t, it’s because they’ve never met their kid. It’s a tough gig for sure. Thanks for the love!

  • http://lifelearningcollegiate.blogspot.ca/ Kathy

    Amazing and beautiful!
    We are humans and I believe the most important things we can do as parents is teach our children that we all make mistakes but owning them and learning from them is what living is all about. If we give voice to ourselves and our children, what is there to be ashamed of?
    Emma is blessed to have such a fabulous mother, and you are blessed to have such a fabulous daughter.
    Thank you so much for your beautiful honesty and sharing with all of us!

    • Shannon

      Wow, thanks for the kind words of encouragement, Kathy. Thanks for stopping in. Where did you come from? I’m glad you’re here!

      • Mamatjt@yahoo.com

        Hello! I came from my mamas tummy!
        Just kidding, a friend of mine had your blog post on her Facebook, now I have become a follower of your amazing blog.
        I have a blog as well, two, one for my day home and one from our lives but the kids don’t homeschool anymore so I am making a new blog, my own kind of blog/ journal…I will let you Know it when it is done”
        Thanks for your amazing honesty and brilliant writing

        • Shannon

          Ha! You’re funny. Tummy. Thanks for such kind words! I’m glad you’re here! I look forward to checking out your blog.

  • http://www.mamamzungu.com Kim at Mama Mzungu

    Wow. This is an incredible post. First of all its beautifully written with such poignancy and brutal honesty. You describe that “batshit crazy” mom to. a. T. “I swear to god I heard my sanity unplug itself from its socket and felt it repeatedly stab my brain tissue with the tines.” Yes. yes. yes.

    We have all been there lady. And I’m sure it’s all the more terrifying when you have a history like yours that your afraid to mirror. But I love the lesson here, and what you’re teaching your daughter through being accountable for your actions. Well done! I love your whole blog.

    • Shannon

      Wow! Thank, Kim. Such amazing words from another writer I really admire.

      I’m gonna go hug my girl really hard now. What horrible news we have today. :(

  • http://www.mumfection.com/ eschelle

    oh i loved this post, as parents we all have these moments. It is what we do with them that counts right?


    • Shannon

      Yes. Lots of sorrys!

  • http://www.greenkick.ca Michele Partridge

    Well done. I must say I’ve had a few of those moments myself. Not proud of them but we’re only human. I love the title of this post as it’s so true. Once again, well done. And I’m now a new fan of your blog.

    • Shannon

      Thanks for reading and for your kind words. I think we all have these moments. It’s why talking about them sucks the shame out.

  • http://www.motheryourbusiness.com Heather @www.motheryourbusiness.com

    i love this. and now, you. the end.

    • Shannon

      And I love you. :)

  • Renata Wurster

    My mum and I have a similar story but it involves her throwing a big plastic bottle of ketchup when she was angry. As the years have gone by, we have had some laughs about it. Now as a parent myself, I have a whole new understanding of how she could hit that level of frustration. I’m sure I will have my own soup/ketchup/something story in time:)

    • Shannon Fisher

      That’s super great of you to share, Renata. Gives me hope!

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