This is how parenting is supposed to lookMar 09, 2020
Like many teens, my son has put our family through the wringer lately. Also like many teens, he is mostly oblivious to the impact he has on the people around him, but this week during a particularly intense exchange, he was struck with a brief flash of objectivity and he got it, just for a minute. And he fell apart with guilt and shame. He blamed himself for all the problems our family was facing and lamented all the mistakes he had made. It was painful to watch...and it was really familiar.
Watching my son self-flagellate reminded me of about half a dozen moments I witnessed just in the past week:
Me regretting all the missteps I've made responding to my teen as his behavior has become worse and worse.
A client last week beating herself up for shaming her son after she walked in on him peeing on her other son in the bathtub.
A client yesterday crying over the way she lost her temper in a fight with her son about gummy bears for breakfast.
A mom in my facebook group fretting over her daughter who wants to quit her sports team because she's worried about letting her team down.
A client this morning worrying that her daughter constantly apologizes every time she messes up.
We humans have such a problem with screwing up. Why do we have this problem? I think it comes mostly from our brain's ability to use hindsight. Hindsight enables us to reflect on an experience and learn from it. We can look back on the 15 times we tried to solve a problem ineffectively, and the 1 time that worked, and realize the thing that worked is probably the best way to solve that problem.
And here's where we go astray. Instead of being future focused, (aka using our hindsight to decide that next time we'll use the strategy that works and skip the ineffective things), we stay stuck in the past, thinking things like,
"Why didn't I just do that thing from the beginning?"
"I should have known those other things wouldn't work!"
"I'm so stupid."
"I'm so ashamed for the damage I caused by making those mistakes."
"If I had just done that thing in the first place, none of these other crappy things would have happened."
But here's the thing: you can't look in two places at once. All that time when you're thinking, "How could I have been so blind?" you're trapped in a backward gaze of hopeless regret and shame. And that means you're not looking at (or learning to improve) your present or your future. This is a waste of time, because time travel isn't real, and because it's flying the face of nature itself.
You can see evidence of seeking and trying and failing and trying again in all living things, from a vine growing by probing with its tendrils until it finds purchase to climb, to rats in a maze trying every possible dead end until they reach their treat, to us dummy moms yelling, lecturing, and bargaining before we settle on the loving calm consequences that work. The way that all of life improves itself and moves forward is through failure over and over again; it's everywhere. Mistakes are the point of life. We are learning machines and the way we learn is through the experience of screwing up.
You don't get to have the lesson without learning it. But we begrudge and shame ourselves for the learning every time.
You (and motherhood in general) are a normal a part of nature. You're not meant to be better than any other phenomenon that exists in the natural world.
Parenting is no different than any other skill that you'd learn. It's just that your heart is so wrapped up in it; the stakes are too high to forgive yourself if you screw up and you think that failure is not an option. But the problem is that you definitely are going to screw up. Not only is failure an option, it's a certainty.
How do you bring this into your motherhood? First of all, celebrate your OWN mistakes, including your parenting ones. Second of all, look at how you talk about failure with your kids. It's not just about saying, "Everyone makes mistakes, no one's perfect." Take it even farther. What if...
...you celebrated everyone's mistakes and really BELIEVED they were signs of success.
...you said to your kid every time they make a mistake, "Good for you, that's awesome, you screwed up big-time!"
...you thought to yourself every time you need to consequence your kid, "This is awesome! My kid is doing the special secret sauce that makes all the magic of life happen."
If you really believed and felt these things, how would your dynamic with yourself and your kids change? I bet it would be revolutionary.
Does this sound impossible? It's definitely not. But it is hard as hell to do it on your own. If you're ready to LEARN from your mistakes instead of punishing yourself for them, and raise kids who can do that too, reach out. I'm talking to moms NOW who are ready to start with me in April making big change in their families. If that's you, click here to book a discovery call.
Pretty soon you'll be starting your day saying obnoxious things like, "I hope I make lots of mistakes today so I can learn something new!" Your kids' eye rolls will be totally worth it ;)