About eight years ago, I made a really crappy decision. Scratch that. I made several crappy decisions. But somewhere at the top of that crappy-decision list is the one that I neglected to permanently correct (as I should have) after entering the parenthood club.
Now as a parent—the one responsible for selflessly nurturing a young creature—it always feels a tad uncomfortable admitting to such poor choices. All the judgment and criticism, the frowning and head-shaking—it makes for a tough confessional. Well pardon my offense against the accepted standards of decency, but eff that.
How else can we improve as parents if not by reflecting and sharing, by listening and learning? We all know there's no such thing as a flawless mom or dad (much less a universal parenting manual), so why shouldn't we be candid with each other? Come on, this is 200,000 years of imperfect human parenting we're talking about here. Ease up, haters.
I digress. Back to the topic. About eight years ago, I took up smoking. Yes—I was immature, irresponsible, impulsive, and easily influenced. And over the next several years, I found myself in a careless pattern of quitting and resuming, quitting and resuming...
Ten days in ICU with life-threatening pneumonia? Not a bad reason to kick the habit. But back on my feet again and I was back to the cigarettes. Nine months of pregnancy (and a child to boot)? Another excellent deterrent—but only until my breastfeeding days had ended. Etcetera, etcetera.
Mark Twain said it perfectly: "Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times."
As a mother, I felt the need to justify my selfish habit with statements like, "At least I always smoke outside, away from my child. At least I'm conscious of his health." I attributed my subsequent quitting-attempt failures to the stressful situations and tragic life events I encountered along the way. And I excused my unhealthy addiction with rationalizations like, "My vice could be worse."
But as my son got older (and wiser), he began subtly undermining each vindication, as if taking an eraser to my whiteboard of defensive plays and surreptitiously wiping it clean.
"Mom, can you please not go outside? I just want you to stay and play with me. But Mom, I just wanted to come outside and give you a hug and a kiss."
It was never a proud decision for me, but watching my son grow was definitely what took the shame and guilt of smoking to a whole new level (and rightfully so).
So finally, with a little push from a very supportive individual (and with an open mind to some helpful alternative therapies), I started the cessation process a bit differently. This time—with no extreme situation forcing me to quit—I was able to focus both gradually and willfully on all the reasons why I, the one responsible for selflessly nurturing a young creature, had needed (and surprisingly wanted) to stop smoking.
Crappy decision: permanently corrected.
We'll always be imperfect parents. But with a little courage, some self-reflection and a few positive supporters, we can always be better.