While there are ideals to be pursued, we humans are far from being perfect. So, thankfully, we are absolved (at least, in some measure) of our innate imperfections. And that means, we can and will make mistakes, including parenting mistakes.
Much and more has been said about why we parents should be good role models for our children, raising the bar high on expectations placed upon us. As a result, we are constantly being judged by others and also, judging ourselves. In fact, anything in our parenting journey can unexpectedly qualify to be a mistake or a failure. We parents know best, don’t we?!
So, let’s take a closer look at some of the mistakes we make in the ways we parent our children:
- Chasing perfection: We aspire to be perfect parents; therefore, we cover up our mistakes, wish them away or push ourselves too hard by setting unrelenting standards for our parenting. Think of the undue pressure we place upon ourselves and our families, and the tension it creates in our homes. And, what happens to the children? In their attempts to deal with the tension at home, our children make certain choices for themselves. Either they try to please us by being outwardly cooperative but inwardly resentful or, by being openly defiant and rebellious but, insecure within. These are maladaptive behaviours that will make it difficult for our children to adapt well to other life situations. So, think again. Is it worth chasing perfection?
- Going on a guilt trip: Ever noticed how our children can turn one of our innocent comments or actions into a shameful error, fault, blunder or misunderstanding? Ever noticed how the guilt spikes on our parenting graph hit the roof in the millisecond after you have said or done something? Worse still, it seems to become irretrievable! Damage control attempts swing into action — a guilty apology, indulgences and bribes, a plea for forgiveness. All this while you want to kick yourself forever! But, hold on! Feelings of guilt do have their value. They are our conscience kicking into action to make us aware of mistakes we have made. Trouble starts brewing when we prolong the guilt and live in the past. Really, it’s our way of punishing ourselves for what went wrong. Instead, let the guilt do its work of helping you pay more attention to repairing a wrong.
- Not accepting a mistake: What about those glaring eyes, indignant expressions from our children that defy our understanding and make us wonder why we are the ones at the receiving end? We claim innocence with a ‘What did I do’ expression. We are blissfully unaware of any ‘mistakes’, letting them float around vaguely, not really touching our sensibilities. It’s the worst attitude to have, to believe that our every good intention cancels the outcome even if turns out to be a mistake. If it doesn’t work this time, it will the next time. So, we repeat the same behaviours. We ignore the most useful lessons to be drawn from a failure, those very lessons that stimulate ideas to pursue useful solutions.
- Unforgiving of ourselves: When we make a mistake, we tend to define the whole self as a mistake and a failure. There’s a huge difference between the words ‘failing’ and ‘failure’. Failing is temporary, filled with hope and there is possibility for correction and learning. We can pick ourselves up and start all over again. Failure seems permanent, there is hopelessness and it makes us want to give up. We choose to see the mistake as a dark spot that spreads all over us, hiding all the wonderful parts of our selves. And, thereby begins our descent into a pit of negative self-thoughts.
- Feeling ashamed: Many of us have grown up believing that mistakes are bad and failures shameful. We succumb to these feelings, believing that everyone is busy judging us. If we believe that the damage is irreparable, we will avoid people and situations. The truth is that we are the ones judging ourselves so harshly. Shame and embarrassment become the familiar companions we cling to in the absence of positive self-belief.
- Blaming others: It’s the easiest thing to do, laying the blame on someone else or on circumstances. It takes a lot of emotional strength to be able to accept a mistake. When we are emotionally weak, our most spontaneous reaction is to find ways to defend ourselves — denial, blame and aggression. As soon as we are willing to admit our part in the mistake and accept it, hard as that may be, the difficult emotions begin to subside, gradually making room for action to correct the mistake or, to overcome a failing.
Six tips to help you learn and grow from mistakes and failures:
- Be realistic: Your parenting journey will be more fulfilling if you have achievable expectations from yourself and strive to do the best you can. Less is better when there is comfort, warmth and firmness.
- Learn from mistakes: Revisit mistakes and learn from them. Once guilt makes you aware of your mistakes, its job is done. Set your guilt aside and ponder deeply over each mistake. The valuable lessons gained will begin to clear all those internal obstacles that have prevented you from learning how not to repeat the same mistake again.
- Move on: Heal, forgive and move on. The keys to knowing why you are afraid of mistakes lie deep in your unconscious mind and are imprinted in the neural pathways of your brain. Here’s how you can access this critical information for yourself: Recall what your parents and caregivers said and did when you made mistakes. Did they punish you and say harsh words that made you feel very bad about yourself? If they did, here are two things for you to understand — first, they did not know another way of helping you through your mistakes. Second, by the natural process of neural imprinting, this pattern became a part of your life-script — that mistakes are unnatural and unforgiveable. You therefore, learnt to be afraid of failure. But, now that know where your fear of failure is coming from, this new understanding is healing and liberating. More importantly, with this new awareness, you can now make a very conscious choice to view mistakes differently — as being normal, forgivable and valuable moments of understanding and learning.
- Build on strengths: A mistake or failure can be so overwhelmingly distracting that it prevents you from noticing the character strengths that have stood you in good stead thus far. Make sure to constantly remind yourself of your strengths. For these will help break down the unnecessary defences that surface when you make a mistake.
- Mistakes happen: Accept that mistakes will still happen. Life is unpredictable and so are many of the mistakes we make. Face them with courage and confidence, knowing well that mistakes are an inescapable part of life. To deny or ignore mistakes is a sign of emotional weakness. Being able to accept mistakes shows resilience when faced with a setback.
- Connect, stay in touch: Build meaningful connections with people. Let’s admit it, after all is said and done, it’s not easy to deal with the rush of emotions we experience when confronted with our mistakes and failures. Have good friends and a few confidants who will listen while you vent your distress, offer you a shoulder to lean on, help you see things objectively and dispassionately. We all need them, don’t we?
Change your life script. Bounce back!
- Understand how and why you make those mistakes
- Think about what you can do differently, the next time
Regular practice of these two steps will ultimately help you re-write your life-script. You will become more forgiving of your mistakes and willing to move on. Your children too will grow with confidence, learning from you how to bounce back from mistakes and failures.
Arundhati Swamy is a counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programmes at ParentCircle.
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