When We Fail Our Children



A very wise and insightful friend made a statement to me a few years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it.

I was at her house for lunch, nursing my son. We had finished, and he was sound asleep with his little head resting in my hand. She walked past, touched his hair and said, easily yet knowingly, “What trust they have.”

Not, “How cute.” or “Oh, he’s sweet.” but a very well-thought-out thought about the amount of trust our babies put in us. From the moment they’re born, they lay their tiny, fragile selves against our bodies, the weight of their little heads in our hands. When they’re born, they don’t question whether we’ll be there to catch them when they land. They just blindly and completely trust that we will.

Like most moms, my biggest goal is to do right by my kids at all turns. I try to educate myself, listen to my intuition, put my own needs and wants aside, and do what they need, what they want, what is best for them. But what happens when all of that isn’t enough?

What happens when, despite our best efforts, we fail?

I haven’t written too many personal posts lately, and it’s taken me a few weeks to start this one. It’s not something I really wanted to talk much about because, frankly, it makes me feel like a totally neglectful mother. I recently took my son to the dentist for a simple cleaning, which I have been doing since he was about 18 months old, and they found a cavity. They referred me to a pediatric dentist who then told me he needed 2 crowns, 13 surface fillings, and it all had to be done under general anesthesia. I left in a state of really shaky shock.

Thirteen WHAT? Anesthesia?! Two THOUSAND dollars?

How on Earth did I let this happen? I’m not the person who lets things go. I’m proactive. On the ball. My shit is together. I just couldn’t understand it.

Except for the fact that I’ve lost much of the past year to severe anxiety, depression and an unexpected paranoia that keeps me up all night long. (Another thing I have put off writing about, since I really haven’t wrapped my own head around it all yet.) But despite all those things, I’ve been taking the very best care I possibly can of the kids. Myself, not so much…but the kids? Always.

At least I though I was…wasn’t I?

But over a dozen cavities?

How in the actual f*ck does that happen?!

Ok, so that part is really irrelevant. It happens because we didn’t rinse enough with water at meals, we (like so many natural foodies) eat real sugar and fruit and maybe a little too much of it, my son has genetically weird teeth with super deep grooves that are difficult to clean. Maybe it’s a result of a Westernized diet with too little fat from pastured animals and too few minerals that keep teeth strong, or maybe there’s a Cavity Fairy that has taken a particular liking to our house.

From the moment we found out, I’ve been convinced that it’s because I’ve been so, so, so focused on meeting my own unreachable standards (Never a drive-thru! No plastic! Homemade everything! Sleep is for the weak!) that I set myself up with no other option but to fail in a “forest for the trees/nose to spite my face” kind of way, and my son paid the price.

Maybe it was my fault. I don’t know. But I made all my decisions regarding food, dental care, fluoride, etc. based on the best information I could find. That said, I’m still learning…and in the end, that’s all I can do. That’s all any of us can do. Because, really, when it comes to that tiny baby that trusts you so much, they’re not trusting you to always make the right decision. They’re trusting you to do the best you can with what you know based on the love you have for them. If you do that, you can never really fail.

As the saying goes, when you know better, you do better. Once you know, not doing better is the only real way to fail. So really, I think most of us are in better shape than we think.

After a few days of tears and a few weeks of seriously beating myself up, I decided to get on the ball and find a second opinion. I reached out on Facebook, and much to my surprise, no fewer than 2 dozen of my friends contacted me either on my post or privately to tell me that their children had been through the same thing. The pharmacist at Target. The pharmacist at my local grocery store. Several of my best friends. Coworkers. Strangers I only know online. All preschoolers. All with 8, 10, 12 cavities. Crowns. Pulpotomies. Extractions. Anesthesia.

What is going on?!

It’s a bigger question than I can answer right now, but you can bet I’m going to try. There’s a tooth decay epidemic among our preschoolers, and it saddens me more than I can tell you. But there’s an epidemic among us moms, too. We’re just so damned hard on ourselves, doing more than any one person could ever do, never living up to our own expectations… and if you think the number of children with bad teeth is high, I’d bet the number of moms on medication to get through the day is even higher.

I’m not sure which bothers me more.

The photo above is of my son, this morning, as we left the first of 3 appointments we have scheduled to fix his teeth. 60 miles away from home, at a different office. No crowns. 6 fillings, not 13. No anesthesia. He walked out of there this morning with a yo-yo and a numb, crooked smile on his little face. As we left, he turned to the dentist and said, “Thanks for taking my cavities away.”

I guess there are days when I don’t fail. I just have to let myself see them.



  1. Anne Perry says

    Thanks Wendy… my son has his first dental visit in a few weeks. I am scared to know the findings… but glad to be proactive.

  2. says

    I’m hearing a lot of dentists declaring a need for a ridiculous amount of dental work… and then the person goes to another dentist and discovers that either a significantly reduced amount or NO dental work was actually necessary.

    That being said, some of us will have weak teeth that require a lot of work. I managed to have a high fever at that time when my adult teeth were forming in my head, so my teeth are significantly weaker than the average. It’s not because of brushing or flossing, it’s because of weakness. (On the bright side, at least I’m not prone to a lot of plaque or bone loss.)
    Suzi Satterfield recently posted…Daily Cute Fluffy Bum – BumGenius FreetimeMy Profile

  3. says

    I can completely relate to this post! Talk about fate. I just had a dentist appointment with my 4yr old and lo and behold she has 4 cavities…and now a referral to see a pediatric dentist for sedation purposes. ugh. I was having exactly the same feelings you described that I had somehow missed something, neglected something! Thanks for sharing your experience. It makes mine seem like we can get through it!
    Jessica Harlow recently posted…Enter to win a Soho Trumpet Crystal Vase from Reed & Barton!My Profile

  4. says

    Our babies do trust us completely! And rightfully so. As parents we DO have their best health, security, love, and interests at heart! But… We are human! We will fail. We are not perfect!

    You are a wonderful mother! And while these fears exist, you are not neglecting his health!! I’m glad you took him in! Soon, it’ll all be a thing of the past.

    It’s nice though to know that we, as parents, can ask for a second opinion. And we can speak up. And we can even disagree! Thank you for sharing this personal post and encouraging us, as parents, to be the voice for our little ones!
    Courtney @ Joy Of Momma Joyner recently posted…A Winter Wonderland Of Babies Event *GIVEAWAY*My Profile

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