Parents who are reading this, you know I’m right when I say that your children never seem to forget the mistakes we make. My daughter has a couple of personal favourites that she like to bring up. I’m convinced that she will someday tell her grandchildren these stories, because she will never let go of these mistakes.
The three of us were on a bus from Boston to the ferry to get out to Martha’s Vineyard. We had brought some small pastries with us for the ride and my wife handed one to our daughter. Before she ate it, our daughter questioned whether there was still some paper on her snack. I said, yeah, I think so, but my wife was certain it was a part of the pastry. Our daughter has not let her forget the time she “made her” eat paper.
My failure was far worse. When she was four, I took our daughter over to the elementary school to register her for kindergarten (she was chomping at the bit to start school). We made the vice-principal, had a little turn, and picked up the various forms my wife needed to complete. As we left the building we came across a large puddle and I gave her a quick ride on my back over the puddle to protect her new shoes. The problem came when I went to put her down and she slid down too quickly, falling on one of her knees. I was mortified. I’d dropped my child right outside of the school and now she had a skinned knee, with some blood and everything. I expected to have a social worker show up at our house by dinner, which of course didn’t happen, but every once in awhile, even seven years later, our daughter will still point out the scar on her knee from when I dropped her in front of the school.
She might never let us forget these mistakes, but she only reminds us of these incidents in jest, and doesn’t seem to use them to define the quality of our parenting overall. But what if we let them define us? The shame would be horrible and would have kept us from being the parents that we actually are (I think she thinks we’re doing okay), which would have been ridiculous. We made mistakes. We all make mistakes, pretty much every day. Some are small (yes, that’s paper, not phyllo pastry), while some are bigger (yes, I dropped my child right outside of the school and she has a scar to prove it), but they were mistakes and nobody suffered irreparable harm (no, the scar on your leg doesn’t count, sweetie).
We can’t let our mistakes define us. Mistakes happen. My wife and I made mistakes in the above mentioned incidents (and many many more), but if our daughter doesn’t look at those mistakes as examples of who we are then we shouldn’t. I think she more likely (and I’m sure she’ll correct me if I get this wrong) sees us as the moms who apologize for (some of) our mistakes, comfort her when she’s hurt, make sure she has a snack for long trips, and when I still could, carried her great distance on my shoulders and back, because those are the things that we’ve consistently done.
We can, and should, apologize, and if necessary, make amends for our mistakes. We can, and should, learn from our mistakes. But we shouldn’t let them define who we are as people because that will only impede us from sharing the good stuff we have to offer.