You can’t be a parent and not fail. Admitting those mistakes doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you human.
There are books beyond measure that supposedly tell us how to be effective parents. Everything from the much reviled Dr. Spock to “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” to “To Train Up A Child” (don’t read that last one…seriously…it’s bad) is available, and each as contradictory as the next. As in life, there is no precise way of knowing whether the decisions we make as parents are right or wrong. We do the best we can, hoping with all we have that our consequences of the mistakes we inevitably make will not be detrimental or severe.
With the benefit of hindsight, I readily admit my failings as a father. I believe this to be a necessity if my aim is to improve. There are parallels to be drawn here. We strive for a better future by learning from the mistakes of the past. In business, government and childhood we seek to understand our imperfections and mistakes, correct them, and move forward.
I’m pretty hard on myself and won’t be convinced that my criticism is unwarranted. I can’t say whether it is the product of low self esteem, misguided perfectionism or just high standards. Whatever the reason, I see flaw and imperfection where others see quality. Be they construction projects, photographs or my skill as a parent, the mistakes I make call out to me with force and conviction. As it relates to my own life, I see the blemishes long before I notice the beauty. It is in my nature to do so and I do not see this as a negative.
I don’t disagree with people who believe me to be a good parent, but I am quick to point out that I have much to learn and improve upon. We all do. As mothers and fathers, we are not given a universally accepted manual with instructions for every conceivable situation. Mistakes and accidents are bound to happen. Admitting them doesn’t make us lousy dads, it just makes us human.
As parents, most actively engage our children when they make a mistake. We strive to teach them to accept responsibility, to own up to their failures and try for better. If that is the behavior we expect, shouldn’t that also be something we model? Mistakes and failure happen. Our success is dependent upon recognizing and correcting the issues of the past.
Why then, at the mere mention of my failures as a parent, do people rally to contradict me? “You aren’t a failure! You’re a great parent!” Folks, I’m not asking for validation. I’m asking us all to recognize that parenting is an inexact science. We will most definitely muck it up every now and again. Refusing to admit when we screw up is misguided pride and fear. We are afraid that if those mistakes become public and pile up, one failure will become a system of failure and that system will collapse our house of cards. Instead of having made mistakes, we’ll be judged as abject failures as parents and that reputation will follow our children.
For the love of dirty diapers people! Perfectionism in parenting is an impossible goal. My mistakes don’t make me a bad parent. They make me human. That I admit to them gives me AND my children a leg up in the world. I don’t understand the pervasive attitude that making an error in judgment should be kept quiet and swept under the rug. This isn’t Watergate!
Announce it! Apologize to the toddler that you just engaged in an epic battle of Who Can Reach The Highest Decibel With A Scream. The teen that rolled their eyes triggering a response of DIDYOUJUSTROLLYOUREYESATMEOHYOU’REGOINGTOBESOSORRYBOYO? Totally grounded. But your response? Totally unwarranted. 2 minutes in the penalty box for you Tie Domi. I’m sure you get the idea. Most of us expect our kids to come clean when they screw up. Shouldn’t that be a two way street?
The notion that perfection is the expectation and anything less will leave you judged as a failure is a false God. We worship the idea that we have the potential to be ideal parents. If we try hard enough, we’ll never make a mistake. Focus. Read the right books, blogs and columns. Hogwash! A failure doesn’t make a person a failure. What makes a mom or dad a failure is to quit trying, learning and adapting. Show your kids the path to redemption by leading the way. Like the commercial used to say, “I learned it by watching you!”
I’m no failure as a parent. I have plenty of room to grow and learn, but that doesn’t preclude me from success. Kids are pretty resilient and so are we. Let the mistakes happen, but don’t make them a habit. After all, its not like the fate of the world is crawling around at your feet in a dirty diaper screaming for a lollipop while tasting the furballs hidden under the fridge. Toss him a dog biscuit, have a cup of coffee and breathe. It’ll be OK.
Photo Credit: Chris Griffith/flickr