I killed the family fish last weekend. It has felt like one of my worst moments as a parent.
I was trying to do everything right. Fifty percent water change, wiping off the algae. Temperature regulation, gentle handling, water conditioner. Check, check, double check.
Rudy, our adolescent betta who hadn’t even grown his long fins yet, apparently didn’t like it. He died in protest within three hours.
I was devastated.
Being a pet murderer is bad enough as it is. But I thought of my tender-hearted boy, James, who was sleeping along with his siblings at the time I discovered the untimely death. I thought of the way his shoulders shook when he sobbed at the loss of the last fish, who had been our companion for many months.
I had failed him as a parent. My incompetence was making him suffer.
These moments, as much as I try to laugh about them in retrospect, are humbling. As I tossed and turned in my bed, thinking about the dead fish in the tank, I fought away tears. I couldn’t help but wonder…if I fail at the little things, how can I handle the big ones?
I know I can’t be a perfect parent. We all do. But maybe instead of trying to brush off my shortcomings, I should embrace them head-on.
I’m failing at parenting. All the time.
From losing my temper to fish murder, I fail. I wound tender hearts and chip away at their innocence. And yet in spite—no because—of this, we are all the better because it reminds me that I am not Jesus. What a relief.
It was morning. I gently lifted poor Rudy’s tiny stiff body from the tank into a small plastic cup. He had been full of life just 12 hours before. I dreaded the next step: waking the kids and starting the day with the sordid news. My husband Marc wanted to participate in the bathroom flush funeral before he left for work.
“Why did he have to die?” James asked tearfully. But not sobbing.
Because Mommy is stupid and she killed him. Did I say that out loud?
“God decided it was his time,” Marc said candidly but gently. “We don’t know all the reasons.”
James handled this loss better than the last one. (They’re tougher than we think, you know.) A few tears fell, hugs were exchanged, and he acknowledged the way of the world. He’s starting to understand death, suffering and the consequences of the fall, whether they result from my mistakes or someone else’s.
Incidentally, after a call to the pet shop, the diagnosis was that I had overdone the tank cleaning. As hard as I had tried to get it just right, I had removed too much of the bacteria in the environment, and the fish had gone into shock.
Imagine that. Death from being too clean. It’s not the first time that trying so hard to attain purity on my own strength has backfired.
Related post: 10 Bible Verses for the Perfectionist Mama
As hard as I try, I can’t protect my kids from my shortcomings and failures. But through my weaknesses, God reveals a little bit of himself.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
—2 Corinthians 12:9
James didn’t blame me. I held him tenderly as we cried. My mistake revealed truth and brought us closer together.
And that is how God works through our brokenness, that his strength, through love, might pull us closer to him and one another.
Heaven forbid we should ever get a dog.