I hate making mistakes. Almost every humiliating mistake I have made is chiseled in my memory – the Sunday in 8th grade when I tripped and fell down the stairs as an acolyte and the congregation gasped like they were watching fireworks on the 4th of July (I still remember how I ripped my panty hose, broke a toe nail and almost lit my dress on fire); or the time I was beside myself leaving a note on the windshield of a car that I had just side swiped in a parking lot. Sadly, the list doesn’t stop there. I could go on and on, but I can’t stand thinking about it. The panicky feelings, the blood rushing to my face, the mental-flagellation of what an idiot I am, “Who does this? What a clod! You always do this kind of stupid stuff.” ( you know you’re in shame territory when you use the word always).
Obviously, some mistakes are more costly than others. This is what we are terrified of when it comes to our children making mistakes. And let’s face it, some of us have kids that push the envelope and have to learn the hard way. This can leave us constantly on edge, anxious every time the phone rings, or waiting for the next shoe to drop. Mistakes can be small, like falling down the church stairs and suffering some embarrassment, or they can be much more devastating.
I think most of us would agree that we want our children to grow up, move out, and be happy, healthy and thriving adults.
In order for this to happen we must learn to let go and give our children the space and grace to make mistakes. Making mistakes are a part of the process of becoming a mature adult. We all recognize even grown ups make mistakes.
Here are a few principles to reflect on when it comes to allowing our children to make mistakes:
1. It is not a reflection on you.
Mistakes are loaded with self-condemnation and judgements. So many moms I work with (myself included) fight so much shame when it comes to their children’s mistakes. Could it be we fear their mistakes are a reflection on us? My answer -“You betcha”. Oftentimes, rather than admit our child’s shortcomings, we defend them or prefer to be in denial. On a deeper level, we blame ourselves.
2. Don’t allow your emotions to short change your chid’s learning process by protecting them from making mistakes.
To sooth our own anxiety, often we over-function for our kids.
At the core, I believe we confuse fear with love. We fear our child’s ability to handle situations in life, such things as homework, stressful situations, or being responsible with a multitude of things. When we find ourselves in this uncomfortable, anxious place, we tend to want to alleviate our own stress and take matters into our own hands. It might feel like we are loving them in that moment, but the truth is we are enabling them. We are keeping them young, and weak.
Just like a butterfly needs to fight its way out of a cocoon to survive, the same goes for our kids. If you cut the cocoon open, the butterfly will not fly,
Its wings never developing the strength it takes to soar.
Love allows our children to struggle and learn from the natural consequences of their choices. Natural consequences have a way of being better teachers than we ever could. As parents this can feel scary, out of control, and be painful to watch. We must “bite the bullet” and resist rescuing no matter how brutal this feels. If we rescue them today, it is only a matter of time we will have to do it again.
3. Believe that your child is capable of figuring out their own problems.
We need to orient to the principle of responsibility when we feel unsure and tempted to give in and rescue our child. The principle of responsibility is allowing our child to become a mature, responsible adult, capable of figuring out what they need to do in any given situation. Rather than jumping in and solving their problems, we can coach and guide them. We need to listen and ask questions that reflect our belief in their ability to solve the issues they face. When we hold our children with positive regard, the likelihood that they will rise to the occasion increases ten-fold.
4. Treat yourself with grace and compassion when you make mistakes.
When we learn to love and accept ourselves, mistakes and all, we become a safe oasis for our children to come home to. Permission is granted to be human, authentic and honest. Each of us is valuable and worthy of being loved, regardless of the mistakes we have made. When we let go of the image we envisioned of how our child’s life “should” look, we reflect the kind of love that we all yearn for – a love that is unconditional, full of mercy and grace. When our children experience a love like this, they feel free to be who they are, rather than who they think they need to be in order to feel loved and accepted. I don’t really believe this has much to do with our children. I believe it has to do with us. The greater our capacity to love and accept ourselves with all our quirks, flaws and failures, the greater our capacity to give the same gift to our children.
So when our children “mess up”, let us view this as an opportunity, not only for their own growth and development, but for ours as well. We will all be the better for it.
Grace and peace,