No one is perfect, including parents. I, for one, have to tell myself on a pretty consistent basis that not only is it normal to make a mistake, there are reasons why making a parenting mistake is a good thing. I know that's a difficult concept to completely wrap your mind around (or, at least it is for me), especially when a tiny, innocent human life depends on you, but that bit of information has saved my sanity on more than one occasion.
The silver lining of any screw up is the undeniable fact that mistakes are teaching moments. I have learned so much more from the actual practice of parenting than I could from reading about it in books. Of course, the learning process has turned out to be more of a trial and error type-situation. I have two totally different kids, who never respond the same way to me, so learning what works for one and what works for the other has been a one step forward, two steps back dance riddled with mistakes and mishaps and screw ups. In other words, in the eight years since becoming a parent, I could write volumes on what not to do, as a parent.
The truth is, every mom makes mistakes, and the best way to deal with those inevitable missteps is to learn from them, adapt because of them and quickly put them behind you. Trust me: I tried the thing where I beat myself up and continuously sulk and constantly think about a parenting mistake I have made. There’s nothing positive or constructive to be gained by that approach. Instead, parents the world over should embrace parenting mistakes as part of the packaged parenting deal. It will (I promise) make the joy of occasionally getting it right that much sweeter.
So, with that in mind, here are five reasons why messing up as a parent is actually a good thing:
You’re Forced To Slow Down
Maybe it’s because I’m a New Yorker, or maybe it’s because I’m a parent, but I feel like I’m always racing the clock. Making a mistake, like forgetting to restock the diaper bag before leaving the apartment or bringing the kid’s immunization card to to their annual check-up, costs me time and I just can’t stand it. But, it also teaches me to slow the ever-lovin' eff down. Rushing just widens the margin for error. Taking a beat to make sure the kids are buckled securely in their carseats or that I've taken them out of the car upon arriving at our destination, is worth the additional seconds. Better late and safe, than on time and flirting with disaster.
It Shows Kids That They Can Recover From A Mistake
We are human and we will mess up. The most we can hope is that we don't mess up all that often. I can’t teach my kids to be perfect, but I can teach them how to handle their mistakes and clean up their messes and learn from the hard parts of life. I’ll take resilience over perfection any day.
It Demonstrates Your Humanity
I was raised in an authoritarian household, where “because I said so” was the answer to most of my frustrated child inquiries. I lived in fear of punishment and developed a lot of sneaky behavior (eating cookies, going to clubs, sleeping over a boy’s house) because of it. While this parenting style worked to a certain extent (I was a very well-behaved child who rarely bumped up against authority), I believe it prevented me from finding my own voice for a very long time. My parents were the boss, and I never questioned them because of it. As a result, I don’t remember them ever apologizing, even if they screwed up.
Now that I’m a parent, I take a more authoritative approach. So, when I know I’ve wronged my child, I react the way I want my kid to when she screws up. IN other words, I apologize.
We all make mistakes and my child deserves my respect and, at times, an apology. I think this practice teaches my kids that an apology is meaningful, and doesn’t undermine my authority as their parent.
You Learn A Better Way
Failure is an option. It teaches me what doesn’t work, so I can find something that does. Recently, we tried to have a family meeting at the end of a weekday, to address our kids’ uncooperative morning behavior getting ready for school. It devolved into a screaming/crying match and delayed bedtime, making for a house full of grouchy people the next morning. So, while it looked good on paper when I read how another mom gathered her family for meetings to help with bonding, we had to find another method. My kids try so hard to sit still and listen and be good all day at school that, honestly, the last thing they needed was more of that at home. So, next time, my husband and I tried weaving in conversation about their behavior more organically, while we played board games or Legos, before bed. It didn’t solve behavior problems once and for all, but it did lay the foundation down for us to, eventually.
It Keeps Your Expectations In Check
I tend to set the bar high with myself (recovering Type A here), so the occasional parenting fumble is a good way to manage my expectations. I no longer schedule more than one “event” on a weekend day, if I can avoid it. When I would pack our weekends with fun plans we were making great memories, but everyone was just exhausted and cranky and getting so used to being over scheduled that if my kid wasn’t immediately engaged in an activity, he’d whine that he was “bored.”
A parenting fail like that serves as a reality check. It’s a reminder that every day of my kids’ lives (and mine, for that matter) doesn’t have to be the best day ever. I can save myself a lot of disappointment by embracing the idea that I will screw things up and, when I do, it’s not like I get my pay docked (as if parenting wasn't a legitimate job). I just have to stand up, wipe off whatever sticky substance this may be (please let it just be apple juice!), and move on. We get a lot of chances to do things right as parents, so let’s not forget that when a mistake trips us up.