I remember the first time I took one of my sons in for stitches. By the time I buckled him into his car seat with that bloodstained cloth still pressed to his cheek, he had already stopped crying. But the tears were just starting to pool in my own eyes. I felt like I had failed. I had been given a perfect, beautiful boy and I let him fall, let him get hurt, and now there would forever be a scar to remind me of my failure. I couldn’t take it away. I couldn’t fix it.
Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? But that’s the truth. I really thought that a toddler taking a tumble was indicative of all my inadequacies and a reminder that my many, many parenting mistakes would scar my child forever.
I think that at some point in time every mom and dad experiences that moment when the gravity of being a parent really sinks in. We realize what an important job it is, how high the stakes really are, and all the ways we could possibly screw things up. How will these poor kids possibly survive life with this incurably imperfect parent?
Your kids will not only survive your imperfections, those missteps may actually make them better. Here’s why.
There’s Strength in the Repair
About a year ago I watched a webinar featuring Miven Trageser, MFT, an LA-base child therapist, speaking on the benefit of risk. In that presentation she talked about the fact that children need to the opportunity to risk, to fail, and to overcome. And in that same context she explained something that has stuck with me ever since. There is strength in the repair.
Our children can’t be shielded from everything. They’ll skin their knees. They’ll have broken hearts. They’ll even bear the brunt of our own poor judgement from time to time. But those rough patches aren’t the end of the story. When we scoop them up, kiss their knees, wipe their tears, or say, “I’m sorry” those connections and corrections actually make them stronger than would a perfect life without the bumps and bruises.
It gave me a new perspective. “Success” as a parent isn’t about keeping our children from facing challenges or experiencing pain (as tempting as it is to try). It’s about being there to comfort, love, support, and — when necessary — apologize. It’s not something we track on a tally sheet of our mistakes, it’s an ongoing process of connecting and reconnecting.
Sometimes 20% is Good Enough
The concept of repair is reaffirmed in Ellen Galinsky’s book, Mind in the Making, when she recounts the work of Edward Tronick of the University of Massachusetts Boston. Tronick’s research focus has been on the influence of relationships on child development. Through observing hours of parent-child interactions he has been able to point out the importance of responsiveness and meaningful connections, or as he refers to it, being “in sync”.
Listening to his findings it’s easy to be overwhelmed and to feel the burden of constantly being in sync with your child. But Galinsky points out that this is another case where more doesn’t mean better. In fact, she cites Tronick’s report that even good parents are only perfectly in sync 20%-30% of the time. And according to Tronick, this process of mismatch and repair is a healthy aspect of the parent-child relationship.
As he says, “This not being in sync frees up parents from that constant burden of being perfect — because you can’t be perfect. No matter how hard you try. You can’t be….The experience of repair gives children a sense of reparation, a sense of trust, a sense of mastery.”
We Can Be Examples
We’ll make mistakes. We will. Small ones, and some really big ones. But rather than dwelling on those mistakes and trying to will the hands of time to unwind, we can move forward doing the best we can to repair and reconnect. We can be powerful role models, showing our children what problem solving looks like, what sincere apologies sound like, and what a soft place to land feels like.
We can’t be perfect. But maybe our kids will be better off for it.
This is part of a series: The Myth of Perfect Parenting. Stay tuned for more!
***This popular series has led to the transformative ecourse, Letting Go of Perfect: The art and science of being an awesome mom without losing your mind. This course only opens a few times a year, so be sure to get on the wait list to be notified as soon as it opens again!
“We can be powerful role models, showing our children what problem solving looks like, what sincere apologies sound like, and what a soft place to land feels like.”
Yep. Because perfect parenting is impossible in a perfectionless world. Where better for our kids to learn how to deal with imperfection than from us?
You must read Wendy Mogel’s book “The Blessing of the Skinned Knee.”
This couldn’t have come at a better time. We struggle a lot about not being in sync quite enough. And now with our first child starting Kindergarten, all those “mistakes” from parenting seem to make their way to the front of my brain, reminding me of EVERYTHING that I have done wrong.
I take comfort in knowing that my daughter knows how much we love her. And I know how much she loves me too. <3
Thank you for this post. So many parenting books don’t remind us that mistakes are normal and okay.
Thanks for that..
Alex | Perfecting Dad says
I find it strange that some people believe they should protect their child … like the child will not eventually grow up. Teach your child, empower your child, love your child, grow your child, yes — but protecting is what you do for a dumb pet, a sensitive houseplant, a fancy leather couch. Children need to experience. And you are so right about the repair being stronger (the old what doesn’t kill you ..) it’s dead on.
By the way, I’m not talking about letting a baby play in traffic; protect your babies from being killed in traffic 🙂 Just don’t over protect the child from natural experience, joy and sadness, pleasure and pain. Being imperfect that way is good for the child. Thanks for the article.
Fabulous post… and oh you so captured that moment of feeling like a failure so well. I remember the hot tears I cried the day my three year old knocked her teeth out… At first I wondered if it was vanity, not her beautiful teeth!, but then I realised it was that horrible sense of feeling like the worst Mum ever.
Nine years later I still get pangs of that sense of failure, but these days I am better at recognising the positives in it.
Rachelle | TinkerLab says
Kate, as I read this post I had the same thought. My 2-year old recently fell and chipped her front teeth as she was getting onto a trampoline, and every time I look at them I’m reminded of that moment that I could have done something differently. However, the fall didn’t crush her spirit and she’s just as adventurous and confident as ever, so I’m trying to look at those teeth as a sign to pay attention to my children while recognizing that I can’t protect them from everything. Great post, Amanda!!!
Jodie @ Parent Wellbeing says
I so agree that we don’t have to be perfect parents, and we don’t want perfect kids. Imperfections are the stuff of life! Thanks for this post!
Joyce @Childhood Beckons says
This is so fantastic and really rings true. Thanks so much for posting.
Thank you for this! Last November my kids and I were involved in an auto accident. My daughter was the only one injured with a severe concussion and cuts on her face. It has haunted me almost every day since that a mistake I made (I pulled out in front of a truck on a dark and very rainy night) caused damage to my little girl inside and out. Thankfully she recovered and healed quickly and the scars are looking much better than expected. It was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced and occasionally I still lie awake at night and cry about it, replaying the accident in my head, asking why, what, how etc. This was a great reminder that I am human, I am blessed and I am a good mom.
Amanda @NotJustCute says
Virginia — Thank you for sharing your story. What a difficult experience. I’m so grateful that you and your little girl are OK. I hope all wounds continue to heal for both of you.
What a fabulous reminder that we can relax with our kids and just be ourselves including our imperfections. Funnily when I do this, my kids are more relaxed and at ease as well.
Good point — out kids pick up on our own stress. When we’re happy, we tend to be better parents too!
Thank you so much for this.
Kelly Pfeiffer says
Enjoyed your encouraging words to parents! Shared on my fb page.
Tricia the Good Mama says
Great post. My son is just one and I definitely need a reminder that it’s okay to make mistakes. Sometimes I get caught up in trying to do the absolute right thing for my son. It’s nice to be a little laid back.