There comes a time in every parent’s life where you ask “Where did I go wrong?” It seems your child will always find a way to throw you for a loop, whether its by cheating in a game, smarting off, or the scary world of teenagers, where “finding yourself” means the more dangerous, the better. We wonder what we should have done differently, or if we said something wrong that has messed them up for life. We set these high hopes that our kids will be doctors and lawyers, successful and healthy. We expect them to learn from OUR mistakes, and be smart enough not to make their own.
But how does that really allow them to learn? Did YOU learn from your parent’s mistakes? I know my mother made a conscious effort to break a cycle of abuse and unhealthy relationships that she knew in her family, so I guess no matter what, a child does learn something from a parent’s unhealthy choices. But there are many things in life that we can’t just learn by living vicariously through someone else. You can’t tell a toddler how to walk—they have to take those steps themselves. You can’t teach a child to drive without handing over the wheel.
And sometimes, our kids will put us through the worst kind of grief—they’ll make a horrible mistake that puts them in the hospital, gets them arrested, hurts someone else…
They’ll get lost in addictions, they’ll protest everything they idolized in you when they were toddlers. I wonder, though, maybe it’s not that being a perfect parent means your child won’t make mistakes—maybe the trick to being as close to a “perfect” parent as you can be is how you handle when they DO make mistakes. And believe me, they will. I know what my brothers and I put my parents through, and parenting doesn’t stop when they move out of the house—we STILL can put my parents through grief. Every child, you and me included, will make mistakes in life. But maybe, instead of them being mistakes to be regretted, they are lessons that can be learned. Maybe the hard times are what help us to become a better person.
Maybe, just maybe, instead of us, as parents, wondering where we went wrong, we can focus on helping our children to figure out what’s right.
A mistake stays a mistake unless you learn something from it. And if you learn something, it becomes a valuable stepping stone of maturity in your life. So how can we, as parents, handle situations where our kids hit rock bottom? The hard truth is that it’s not ours to handle—we have to allow our kids to hurt, and we have to allow our kids to learn. We can love them along the way. We can support but not enable. And we can interact. How does this make you feel? What are you going to do about it? How are you accepting responsibility? Then open up to them—how do I feel? Am I upset because my child didn’t live up to my expectation, or am I upset because they put themselves in danger, or they’re hurting themselves?
Let’s allow our children to build character. My hope is that I’m strong enough to rise above my own anger, hurt, and expectations, and help my child to build that character that will make them the amazing adult they will become. And maybe, just maybe, we both will learn a lesson together…and be stronger for it.
The “perfect parent” is the one who loves the child who IS
and lets go of the child they imagine.