I read one self-help book on parenting before I gave birth.
Between work and the actual doing of it, I didn’t have a lot of time for more. I listened to Oprah. Talked with friends. Asked for help when I could see my child was struggling. Tried to be in tune.
I look back and know I made mistakes. I may make others.
What will you do if your child comes to you to talk about the mistakes you have made?
Whether as a child – “Mommy, I don’t like it when you yell at Daddy”.
Or an adult. “You know Dad, I don’t get what made you just not be there for us”.
Maybe you have wanted to approach your own parent. Maybe you have tried.
I hear about three different outcomes of those conversations.
The lucky ones get a sincere apology.
Along with an attitude of openness. The parent may not agree completely. That can be discussed. That’s not the major point. There is empathy expressed for the perception of the other.
Some don’t get an apology at all. Get told it is or was their fault. Or there is a blatant refusal to discuss. That feels terrible and the conversation was probably not a good idea in the first place. The parent did not have the capacity to have it.
A third group hears, “Well, I’m sorry but I did the best that I could”.
Let’s be honest. What does that matter? Whether or not I am driving “the best that I can,” if I still hit you, shouldn’t I be sincerely apologetic?
That answer is defensive. The parent may be trying to discount mistakes. By saying they could not have done any better. They weren’t capable. Or they are making the conversation about them. Not about the child coming to them.
“You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit”. That’s what teachers told my son in pre-school about lunch time.
I don’t think the same should pertain to parenting.
Human beings aren’t capable of always doing their best. We watch athletes who train relentlessly miss tackles or strike out. Go to a play. You will see an actor give a brilliant performance on Thursday and a not-so-Tony-worthy one during the Sunday matinee.
Parenting is no different.
It is humbling to recognize that your vulnerabilities as a parent affect your children. In fact, it’s downright scary. If you admit them when appropriate? You allow your children to see and learn themselves that, when you have done something wrong, you can talk about it.
That feels better all the way around.
The next part – taking steps to change. That’s a journey we are all on.
It’s important to remember your strengths have a positive effect as well. I work with lots of parents who only focus on their weaknesses as part of their depression or anxiety. They don’t give themselves credit for all they do that is pretty wonderful.
Then you are modeling self-deprecation. Or low self-worth. Not good either. Plus it’s a miserable way to live.
I hope, when given the chance, I will listen to my son. Whatever it is. I hope I will say “I’m sorry”.
Period. No ifs, ands or buts.