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When Your Children See You Fail

How to react to your failures as a parent

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He pointed his index finger straight at me and flipped his lights. Busted! As the state trooper roared out behind me, I believe I muttered something profound like "Oh, no." My kids were silent as I found the closest pull-off and slowed while the car I had just passed now passed me. A perfectly good morning, just a week shy of the end of the school year, ruined. And I had only myself to blame, speed demon mom that I am.

Not only did it mean a pinch to my bank account, but it was also a blow to my mom-mentor status.

I did what every responsible driver should—pulled out my driver's license, vehicle registration, and insurance card and held them ready. And, of course, it seemed a month went by as I waited for the officer to walk up to my car window.

We had the usual conversation—he inquired about why I was driving at an increased speed and warned me of the danger of the particular passing lane I had used, and I meekly explained that I was taking my children to school. I didn't bother to tell him that the next ten to twelve miles on this two-lane highway were typically plagued by slow-moving vehicles and this was my last chance to pass those who would slow down my progress to get my little scholars to their classrooms by 8:30. My dominating thought was to get through this as fast as possible. Not only did it mean a pinch to my bank account, but it was also a blow to my mom-mentor status. I'm the mother who tries to point out real-life truths as we ride, dissecting the news and current events on the radio, taking advantage of every teachable moment I have with my kids. To be caught in a blatant transgression before their very eyes was, to say the least, humiliating.

Reacting to failure

The police officer was very nice, saying he had to write me up because of the danger at that particular spot in the highway. He even remarked about where I lived and how the private school where my children attend was a long distance from my home. I agreed with everything he said, saying as little as possible. I just felt . . . small, anxious to process this so I could try to salvage the day.

As we finally pulled away (after I received a nice little slip of yellow paper), I tried to remember that I was the mom, an adult, the one who should model good attitudes for my children. It's big-girl time now. Deal. With. It.

My natural reaction in moments like these is to strike a balance between acknowledgement and joviality—you know, trying to say "Yep, I was wrong" without looking like a total loser. But inside, I was fighting the tide of self-justification welling up to comfort me. "I'm basically a good driver. I was just trying to get my kids to school on time."

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When Your Children See You Fail