Do You Expect Too Much From Yourself As A Parent?

One November night, I allowed Marissa and Dalia each to have some Halloween candy after dinner. Dalia chose first. She took a lime-flavored Tootsie Roll out of the pail. Marissa said, “Oh, those are good.”  Dalia asked, “Do you want the yellow one?” Marissa answered, “Yes.”


For a split second, I considered checking the ingredients, as Marissa has a life-threatening allergy to dairy. Then, I remembered she said she had eaten them before.  I even asked her, “Are you sure you’ve had these?”  “Yes, I’m sure,” she insisted.


Moments later, while she was chewing the candy, she suddenly asked, “Mommy, what’s skim milk?”


She said she felt a familiar tightness in her throat, and checked the candy wrapper for the ingredients. Among them: skim milk and whey.


She spit out the candy and started to panic. I immediately gave her 10 ml of Benadryl and remained calm. I looked in her throat and it seemed swollen. I could see the tops of her eyelids turning red and getting slightly puffy. I remembered all the other times that came before this, when her reactions were severe enough that I held the Epi-pen in my hand, but never administered it — the Benadryl had always come through for us before. But I could now hear the voice of our allergist saying, “There’s no harm in giving the Epi-pen, but there could be harm in not giving it.”


I heard his voice telling me, “Whenever there’s swelling, that’s a systemic reaction. Give the epinephrine. Don’t wait.” I remembered hearing that with each additional exposure, her reactions could get worse. I recalled the story of 13-year-old Natalie Giorgi, who accidentally bit into a peanut-butter treat at camp this past summer. Her parents administered an antihistamine and watched for signs of anaphylaxis. Unfortunately, by the time there were visible signs, Natalie’s reaction could not be stopped even with three doses of epinephrine, and she died.


I told Marissa that I was going to give her “the shot.” Her eyes widened with fear, but then she said, “Ok. I want it. I just don’t want anything to happen to me.”


Since my child was telling me that she was willing to endure a needle in her leg and a trip to the emergency room to feel better, I knew I had to listen to her.


I called my mother who immediately came over to watch Dalia. I called Gavin and he cancelled an appointment to come straight home.


I’d never given a shot of anything to anyone before, but I had seen several demonstrations of how to use the Epi-pen and practiced with the training pen that came with the actual medication. I also went over the protocol each year with Marissa’s teachers and camp counselors.


Marissa bravely held out her arm, but I told her the needle had to go in her leg instead. She let me inject her with the medicine and waited until I counted to ten. She didn’t shed a single tear. In fact, she said it didn’t hurt as much as she had expected. Then, as per the dosing instructions, she dialed 911 and handed me the phone.


When I opened the door several minutes later, two Emergency Responders wheeled a stretcher into our foyer. They came into the kitchen to see Marissa, who had started sneezing and blowing her nose. Her eyes were red and swollen and her cheeks were red.


They took her vitals, explaining to her what they were doing and why. Everything was within normal range. They conducted a brief mental status exam to be sure she wasn’t disoriented. They asked questions like, “What’s your name? What school do you go to? How old are you? When’s your birthday?” Marissa enjoyed this and liked the attention. She started to become hyper (a side effect of the ephinephrine) and acted silly. She told us that her throat was feeling better.


When Gavin got home, we decided that Marissa did not need to go to the hospital. We would continue to watch her, but her symptoms were fading.


The Emergency Responders and my mom left. I went upstairs to my room, shut the door, and cried. I said to myself:

  • You should have looked at the ingredients.
  • You should have known better.
  • You should be able to protect your children at all times.
  • You should have doubted her when she said she’d eaten it before.
  • You should never make mistakes.


I briefly started down this path of self-blame and guilt, but stopped when I remembered what my therapist used to say whenever I spiraled in this direction: “Be gentle with yourself.”

So, instead, I told myself:

  • Mistakes happen.
  • You do your best to make good decisions and you’re not perfect.  
  • You’ll learn from this that Marissa needs more training on how to read food labels before putting anything in her mouth.
  • You were there when she needed you tonight and you helped her through a difficult time.
  • You handled yourself really well under tonight’s pressure.
  • You helped Marissa feel safe because you stayed calm.
  • Be grateful for your children and for this day. They are precious.



As a parent, I sometimes place unrealistic expectations on myself and then feel guilty and inadequate when I fail to meet them. Expecting too much of myself likely started in childhood, when I believed my parents sometimes expected too much from me.


In adulthood, many of us take over for our parents by holding ourselves to impossible standards and judging ourselves too harshly.


To break this cycle with our own kids, we have to start with the way we treat ourselves.


Whenever you hear that little voice in your head saying, “You should…,” that’s your expectation talking. Accept yourself exactly as you are. If you aren’t meeting an expectation successfully, adjust it to be more realistic and achievable. Remember: be gentle with yourself.


Now I’d like to hear from you. Please leave a comment and let me know: Are you too hard on yourself? What are some expectations you hold for yourself as a parent? What do you tell yourself you “should” be doing or being differently? Are you willing to accept yourself as you are and adjust your expectations?


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Enjoy your week and I’ll be back next Tuesday with another post!

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