What are your worst parenting mistakes? – The Guardian

Michele Hanson

Michele Hanson: I set my daughter’s guinea pigs free

When my daughter Amy was eight, she had 11 guinea pigs. We never intended to have 11, but got the sexes muddled up, so there we were with 11, all with a skin disease, who needed individually shampooing and blow-drying daily, by me.

And in one week, we were getting a dog. A boxer puppy. Naturally, I had planned for the guinea pigs to be adopted, but all the potential parents chickened out or disappeared, and I panicked. I couldn’t cope with the shampooing, the dog might eat them for breakfast, and a friend nagged me to let them go.

So I did. I put them all in a box, took them to the nearest wild area of parkland, and set them free. My daughter only had moments to say goodbye to them, and was heartbroken at the loss of her particular favourite Snuggles – brown, swirly-furred and one of the original two. Off they scampered happily into the grass and shrubs. For a few minutes I thought this a good idea. They would have a fabulous new life of freedom.

Wrong. What was I thinking of? What an idiot. How long would they last?

They didn’t know how to be wild. A fox might eat them, and what had I done to my daughter? What a cruel, heartless witch I was. And I should have known better.

Because when I was 12, my parents ate my pet ducks, Dickens and Jones, while I was on holiday. They pretended they had taken them to a local farm, and never dared tell me the truth until I was 21. My mother had stepped in duck poo while bringing the coal in, trod it all over the carpet, lost her temper and then roasted my ducks. I never forgave them.

Now I had done almost the same thing to my own daughter. I had learned nothing from my own miserable childhood experience. I felt deeply ashamed, loathsome and guilty, and cried at night for weeks. Hardly anyone was sympathetic.

They either thought me a pathetic weed for blubbing, or a thoughtless, hard-hearted creature, or a fool for panicking. I felt like all of those things. I still do.

Sam Wollaston

Sam Wollaston: My worst error of all? Becoming a parent in the first place

God, where to start? And social services don’t read this, do they? Because I’ve lost my children, forgotten them, forgotten to feed them, dropped them, put the wrong clothes on them, taught them bad words (inadvertently, promise, though it is funny, a cussing kid). And I’ve exploited them, for copy. I’m clearly not meant for this.

But my worst parenting error of all? Well, given the above that would probably have to be becoming one – a parent – in the first place. Procreating.

From my kids’ point of view obviously. They’re foul-mouthed urchins, with an idiot for a father. For the moment they don’t know any better, they think I’m brilliant, even if they are a bit hungry. But later they will be embarrassed, resentful, probably angry.

From my point of view, also. Sure, I wanted them, or thought I did. Maybe it was the gene thing, or a search for existential meaning. But I never properly thought it through. I imagined reading my favourite books to enthralled pyjama-ed darlings, our own family adventures in far-off lands, that kind of thing. In reality though, well if I do manage to get pyjamas on them, they’re soon off again. They want the books I can’t stand, like Mr Men, and Thomas the chuffing Tank Engine. After which I’m too exhausted and depressed to read for myself. Children make you tired and boring. They make a mess of your house, your relationship most probably, your life. And they make you poor too. Really poor. Forget about those exciting foreign adventures, it’s Cornwall this year, again; pile in everyone, for nine hours of hell. We’ll stop off of course … at a service station. Hmmm, now there’s an idea. Are they sure, about the family in France who left their daughter behind? Was it really a mistake?

Lola Okolosie

Lola Okolosie: Children and steep inclines are not a good match

It was the depths of winter, a time when daylight is so painfully short that getting fresh air seems like an annoyance when all you really want to do is cosy up inside. But, with a three-month-old and an energetic two-year-old, it’s not an option. I’d been round my local park so much that I felt akin to a hamster running on a wheel. Bored by the flatness around me, searching for something vaguely suggestive of West Yorkshire’s hills, I arranged to meet a friend at east London’s hilliest park.

Children and steep inclines are, generally, not a good match. If it’s not a slow slog up accompanied by regular intervals of “I’m tired”, “carry me” or “shoulders”, it’s a toe-curling sprint down. Quite why, then, I chose to bring my son’s scooter without a helmet, I don’t know. It was the proverbial recipe for disaster.

In my defence, I had thought my stern and repeated “no”, mingled with the odd “go steady” would have tempered the excitement of a possible crash but the best laid plans and all that. In the end, the most I could do was to pull him slowly along with my left hand, with much reluctance on his part, whilst pushing the buggy and baby with my right. After getting frustrated at not being allowed to go at breakneck speed, my son finally revolted. In the moment it took me to put the buggy brakes on, he’d scarpered and was racing down the park’s steepest incline. I couldn’t move and not a small part of me was hoping he’d emerge, a mini stuntman, unscathed. It didn’t go like that. Instead he crashed close to the bottom of the hill, blood flowing freely down his face. More than six months on, he will periodically mention the time he “went too fast” on his scooter and hurt himself and I, again, remember my stupidity.

Joanna Moorhead

Joanna Moorhead: I totally failed my little girl

I’ve sent two daughters to school whimpering in pain after falls (“You’ll be fine! Being in lessons will distract you”) only to discover later that they had broken limbs. I once left my then three-year-old alone with the hamster for two minutes, and she managed to kill it – though as another of my children pointed out, Honey did die in the best possible way, because he was cuddled to death (she squeezed him too hard, and thought he was just sleeping when she laid him back down in the cage). But the very worst thing I have yet done as a parent is to forget to detail anyone to collect my then 11-year-old youngest daughter, Catriona, when she came home from a school trip.

My husband and I were away from London, because our eldest daughter was graduating from university. It was a delightful, happy, proud day; the sort of day that makes you think, we must be doing something right. And then, as I supped my third glass of champagne on the college lawn, I noticed about five missed calls – from my youngest daughter’s school. I found a quiet corner, called them up, and heard the iciness in the school secretary’s voice as she told me that the Year 6 trip had returned, and that all the children except mine had been collected.

I spoke to Catriona, and I could hear she was holding back the tears; suddenly the parental jubilation of the day was quashed by the fact that I had totally failed my little girl. I located another daughter – I have four of them – and she said she could get to the school in an hour’s time; but in the end, Catriona decided she would walk home on her own, a 10-minute journey, and wait on the doorstep for her sister with the key. It breaks my heart, to this day, to think of her trudging along our street pulling her suitcase on her own. But parents aren’t perfect, and I’m the first to admit it. We drop balls all the time; though that was a bad one, and occasionally I still apologise to Catriona for it.