As I mentioned in part 1, it’s ok to be a “messy” parent. We need to normalize, not stigmatize, messy parenting. This means embracing our feelings and mistakes and learning from them, using them to grow and learn as parents. It means using our own struggles to help our children understand how to manage the “messiness” and challenges of life through example and open communication. Indeed, one of the best ways we can teach our children how to manage their mental health is by modeling how we deal with life’s difficulties, including how we parent them and how we embrace, process and manage our own mistakes.
A great example of this was one of the last episodes in the final season of Ted Lasso, a favorite TV show of mine. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend doing so!
In this episode, Ted has a beautiful, “messy” moment with his mom about the impact childhood had on him as an adult, and her own struggles dealing with the tragic death of her husband and Ted’s father. This reflects on Ted’s own struggles with his young son, who lives in America while he is in England, and eventually results in Ted making the decision to move back home so he can be closer to his son.
They are in Ted’s kitchen when this “messy” moment occurs. Ted asks his mother why she is truly in England to visit him. Clearly, there is a lot of tension between the two of them, even though his mother just pretends everything is okay. This how she is coping with the pain of her past; if she can pretend it didn't happen or gloss over the deep things that hurt too much, then perhaps they will go away.
However, Ted has had enough and says something along the lines of, “Thank you for cooking dinner. And curse you for not wanting to talk. Thank you for flying all the way here to come and see me. And curse you for not telling me you were coming. Thank you for the small silly little things you did for me as a kid… like hiding notes in my lunchbox, or putting googly eyes on the fruit at the supermarket just to make me laugh. And curse you for not working on yourself, or seeking help after we lost dad. And for not talking to me about it either. Just glossing over the whole thing and acting like everything was alright…”
Ted shows her that he noticed her kindness to him as a child, but is frustrated because often her words and actions covered up the deeper issues in their family, like the fact that Ted’s father took his own life. His response highlights the many unsaid things that built up over the years between them that have been bubbling like a volcano about to explode, which came to the surface when Ted’s mom suddenly visits her son in England without telling him. This is messy.
Ted’s mom doesn’t run away from the conversation. Rather, she acknowledges her own failures and apologizes, while also explaining how hard it was for her as well when her husband died: “I’m sorry. I didn't know what to do, Ted, so I pretended I was okay.” Her vulnerability is a key part of what it means to embrace “messy” parenting: we need to be authentic and honest with our children, and own up to our own mistakes and work on ourselves as well. This is one of the best things we can model for our children: how to say sorry and work on improving ourselves.
But Ted isn’t finished. He says, “Okay, well thank you for the apology, And curse you for making me think I had to pretend to be okay.” He acknowledges her words and respects for her owning her messiness, while still verbalizing the impact her actions had on him and how he needed to tell her how he felt.
His mom responds: “All right. I appreciate you sharing this all with me. I just wish you hadn’t carried it around for so long.” His mom acknowledges his pain; she doesn’t shoot him down, tell him he is overreacting, or react from a place of fear or anger. She realizes that trying to make everything seem okay all the time even when things were bad did not help her son, which impacted how he felt like he had to deal with life’s challenges as an adult: be happy and pretend everything was okay.
This is another key part of what it means to be a “messy” parent: admitting that we are human, we make mistakes, and sometimes we unintentionally hurt our children and impact their wellbeing and development. This does not make us terrible parents or failures. It makes us REAL parents, who cannot be perfect all the time. Good parenting is not about not making mistakes. It is about what we do after we make a mistake. It is about how we choose to respond to what happened.
Then his mom says, “You are right, Ted – I do have something to say to you: your son misses you.” Ted nods and responds: “I know and I miss him too.” Ted says he’s scared to get too close to his son because he is afraid of abandoning him like his own father left him. Ted owns the messiness of his own mistakes and fears as a father, and how he had let his own past affect his relationship with his son. He realizes that his own trauma has impacted him, and he can’t run away from it anymore.
As I often say, it is important to remember that you are someone's child too. You have your own baggage that you brought into parenting. You have the right to work on the impact your parents had on you without feeling guilty, knowing they did their best as well, and that they too were someone’s children. You can honor what they went through as well as work on the impact they had on you and the impact you have on your own children. This is one of the best things that you can teach your children!
At the end of the scene, both Ted and his mom acknowledge an important thing about being a parent: sometimes you lose and sometimes you win, but most of the time you just tie…all you can do is keep playing. Honestly, this last bit really hit me as a mom of four: sometimes all we can do is keep on keeping on, doing our best, making mistakes, and learning from them.
This is not a blame game. “Messy” parenting is about honoring what we went through as children, embracing our own mistakes as parents, and helping our children understand what it looks like to accept that life is “messy” while reminding them that this “messiness” doesn’t define us or determine our worth.
For more on parenting and children’s mental health, listen to my podcast (episode #496). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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0:26 Why we need to give ourselves permission to be “messy” parents
1:35 How to avoid the parent guilt & shame spiral
2:00, 6:44, 21:16 What Ted Lasso tells us about “messy” parenting
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