I have many roles in my life at the moment. I am first and foremost a parent, which is my most important work. But I also support other parents in this challenging, essential and all-encompassing work that we do. I know a good deal of theory about why we're trying to parent in this responsive, respectful way - and yet still, more often than I would like, I get it wrong.
Should I bother to keep trying, when I slip up so much? And how can I have the audacity to suggest ideas to other parents about what they might try - when I am so imperfect myself?
So here's the thing for me. I am in a position with my children where I can choose one of three options when I get it wrong. Firstly, I could say, 'well, this is just the way it is, I can't change, and besides, everyone loses it sometimes, so I shouldn't beat myself up, I should just get on with it'.
Or I could say 'I've messed up, that's it, I'm an awful person, there's no hope for me, so I should just give up now'.
Or finally, I could say 'yes, I've messed up - I'm not happy about it, I think I could do better, and I am going to keep trying'.
I don't think it will come as a huge surprise to anyone that I am firmly ensconced in the latter camp.
Both of the first two options mean that we are not taking steps to change, and we will continue on the same path, which doesn't feel like something I want to do. In the first, we are blocking out the discomfort necessary to initiate change, and in the second we are mired by it - stuck in the feeling of low self worth generated by our mistake. But the third option is a good middle ground - we acknowledge and accept our mistakes, we repair the connection with the child concerned, and then we actively seek to do better next time. But we are not wallowing in the bad feelings - we are saying 'I did a bad thing', rather than 'I am a bad person', and that is a crucial difference. We are then coming from the mindset of 'we're all good people, doing our best', and if we can treat ourselves well enough to recognise that in ourselves, we can break free of any feelings of worthlessness when we mess up.
This is where I always wanted to be, but I have had to work hard to pull myself out of the 'I'm an awful person' mindset. And I also always knew that I wanted to do better, but I just didn’t know how. There are a number of actions which have helped me on this challenging path, and I've included some links below in case that helps anyone.
Anyway, how is it then that I can say it's ok not to get it right all the time, even whilst I strive for it? The answer is, because I have to be ok with not getting it right all the time - because never ever will I be a perfect parent. No matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, I'm still going to slip up from time to time (or more!). But I am going to work my hardest to continue to make those breaks in connection fewer, and shorter, and further apart. And that is my goal - not to get stuck where I am, but also not to completely beat myself up every time it all goes haywire.
We could also argue that it's important to make mistakes so that we can model repair to our children. I would say very tentatively yes, but I would also treat this perspective with a great deal of caution. Again, no matter how hard I try, I will continue to make mistakes, and my children will have plentiful opportunities throughout their young lives to see adults messing up and (hopefully) making it right again - without me easing off on the 'trying to do better' pedal.
Incidentally, I asked my children about this subject as I was making notes for this post. I asked them is it ok that I'm not perfect (to which they answered 'yes' - phew!), and then why it's ok not to be perfect. You know what they said?
"Because no one's perfect"
"You'd be fooling yourself"
And my personal favourite: "It will be ok if you just accept it, but people can make changes to make the world better, and if you can just accept that it won't be perfect, then it will be ok and you can still make the world better"
I'm not perfect, and I can still make the world better! Yes!! Out of the mouths of babes and all that…
So, here's what I remind myself of when I am not being the parent I want to be. In the moment I acknowledge to myself that I have messed up, and accept that 'this is the way it is right now'. But I then will not resign myself to the inevitability of future mistakes - I will continue to work to do better, because I know that I can. We all can! When you lose it, I hope that you will remember: we're all right here with you, we've all done it, and you are still a good person.
And I will leave you with a final word from our oldest child: "Mummy, you get more right than you get wrong." I will take that, with gratitude!
**As I mentioned above, this journey has been a long and rocky one for me, to reach this point of being accepting of myself as a person who makes mistakes - I'm still not where I want to be, but I'm getting there. If you too feel like you're not good enough, that it's too hard because you never seem to get it right, there are some links below about how I moved forward on this path. In the meantime, notice your small wins, and remember that you are exactly the parent your child needs. Peace and love xx**
Related posts and information:
- Life is easier when you listen - Listening Partnerships started me off, and have been with me all the way!
- Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly - life changing. Uncomfortable but necessary reading for me!
- The Parent's Tao Te Ching - helping with feelings of acceptance
- Parents Make Mistakes Too - How to Apologize - some useful ideas here