Remember way back when I started this series? I had a new baby and was being lured by the siren call of perfectionism. Wrapped in this swaddle of blankets was a clean slate — perfection embodied. It was my chance to start over as a parent and get it “right” this time.
My little guy turns one next week. (Where does the time go?) And guess what. I’ve already ruined him.
Well, that’s what the crazy perfectionist that lives in the back of too many of our minds would tell us. He’s already had plenty of sugar, too much peripheral screen time, and let’s just not talk about the quick trip he took down a few of our stairs.
But I think he’s going to be just fine. Probably even better than fine.
Never Too Late
I just can’t say enough good things about Ellen Galinsky’s book, Mind in the Making. But one of my favorite things I learned was that one of Galinsky’s primary goals was to make sure the book was not a guilt trip for parents. She recalled reading a book she had loved as an academic, but when she reread it from the perspective of a mother it made her feel awful. She felt she had already done it all wrong and all hope had been lost. (That alone gives me comfort. Someone as brilliant as Ellen Galinsky, thought she had gotten it all wrong. We’re in good company.)
From quite the opposite perspective, Ellen Galinsky corrects Katie Couric in this fantastic interview/overview of her book. As the two mothers discuss Galinsky’s research in this clip, Couric jovially says off-hand that it’s too bad it’s too late for her to use the information with her teenage daughter. Galinsky quickly asserts that it isn’t too late, and that she actually learned things from her research that have changed her perspective even as a mother to adult children. It’s never too late, she affirms.
There is fascinating research about early brain development. Children learn so much in such little time. It truly is amazing. It’s important for us to realize the impact that early experiences have on child development. But at the same time that we become more aware of the critical periods of growth in early childhood, there has been an unfortunate misconception that it is ONLY in those early periods that the brain can change.
To use a visual, the old theories of brain development took a petrified approach. Once the brain was formed and developed, it was like stone. It was set. What we now know from the last few decades of research is that brain development takes a more fluid approach. It creates new pathways and tweaks old ones. It is more mold-able than rigid. We call this characteristic “plasticity”.
It may take more work as we become older, but we can always learn. One of my favorite examples is that of George Dawson, a man who learned to read at the age of 98. If ever there was an excuse to say it was too late, he had it. But he didn’t use it. And neither should we.
It’s never too late.
As much as we’d like to give our children everything, and give it to them perfectly, the happy truth is — they don’t need it. Children are, by design, very resilient.
Of course, I don’t want to understate the gravity of abuse and neglect, but when it comes to our more common short-comings, our kids will be OK. We can apologize, we can change course, we can move forward.
My parents often joke that it’s a miracle that we turned out OK, given all the new information about what kids need and the fact that they supposedly didn’t know what they were doing (though I would respectfully disagree on that point).
It’s true that not only were seat belts optional back in my day, but the kids that were actually driving out on their farms would probably still be required to be in booster seats by today’s standards. There’s research today about how to talk to kids that directly contradicts with the best practices that were encouraged and implemented in my elementary school 25 years ago. And yet, I — and a whole lot of other kids in that small town — turned out just fine. Even better than fine.
As I’ve mentioned in discussing the Building Strong Boys Series, child development doesn’t happen in a clean, linear fashion. There’s no clear “if this, then that” flow chart to follow. It’s more like a Jenga tower. There are all kinds of factors in play. You can remove several with little to no effect, as long as you have enough stabilizing blocks remaining.
Similarly, we don’t have to get it all right for our kids to be alright. As long as enough stabilizing factors remain, we can make mistakes — it’s inevitable — and our kids will be OK.
I’ve long loved, and often used, a quote from Maya Angelou that “When you know better, you do better.” We can’t hold ill will against ourselves or our own parents, for doing the best we know to do. That doesn’t mean we have to make the same mistakes over and over once we know a better way.
It’s never too late. Never too late to teach a better way. Never too late to mend a broken relationship. Never too late to parent the way that feels right and authentic. Never too late to just step up and be there.
It’s never too late for you, and it’s never too late for your child.
Let go of the mistakes in your past, and move beyond the ones you’ll make before the day is over. It’s never too late to start where you are, to give what you have, and to learn, love, and grow together.
What changes have you made that have made the biggest difference for you and your family? What have you learned to let go of?
Find all posts in the Myth of Perfect Parenting Series HERE.
***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!