We know that everyone makes mistakes, but for some reason many of us feel our shame uniquely, as though we are the first and only person to have our portable stroller collapse while jay-walking across a four-lane.
And worse, we worry that our mistakes will have life-long impacts on our child. Because we missed the deadline for art camp, will our children never learn to express their deepest emotions? Because we used adult vocab at breakfast, will our children cuss the school principal, get expelled, ruin chances for further education and employment?
It’s true that our children learn from how we live. From the minute they are born, they are watching. As the great novelist and activist James Baldwin said:
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
Fortunately, our children learn not just from our mistakes, but from how we respond to our mistakes.
So the next time we text our bestie with a rant about our boss, but accidentally copy our boss, let’s pause and consider how we would want our children to respond to making this same mistake. Would we want them to pretend nothing happened? Would we want them to double-down on the mistake, quitting their job in a blaze of middle-fingers? Would we want them to sink into a swamp of self-loathing, rehash daily (heck, hourly!) every gory detail of what went wrong?
It’s suddenly much more clear, isn’t it?
How about we just say, oops?
How about we admit what we did, apologize, repair what we can, and make a strategy for avoiding the same mistake in the future? And then, how about we give ourselves a little pat on the back and say:
“Congratulations, you’ve erred! You are officially a human being!”
Doesn’t it create a deep sense of comfort to imagine our children handling mistakes this way? But Strong Mom, remember this: they won’t, unless you do.
And while the examples here may have been little mistakes, we know that some mistakes are big. Like really big. The kind of mistakes that permanently harm someone else, or that land us in prison.
Those, too, are to be recognized, learned from, then moved through. We can demonstrate to our children how to live with both regret and with grace.
Easier said than done? Most everything is. That’s why we often need thoughtful friends and/or mental health professionals to help. They can laugh with us, cry with us, cringe with us, and point us in the direction of self-compassion when we seem to have lost our way.
After all, none of us get through this messy thing called life, much less parenting, without a bit of help.
Don’t be afraid to reach out. We’re here for you, Strong Mom!
The Mountain Home Team