How You Can Be Imperfect AND be a Great Parent
A huge challenge for parents is knowing how help when children make mistakes. A parent’s support, especially when things don’t go well, fosters the self-worth and self-compassion it takes to learn from what happened.
I recently watched my brother coach his kids on riding new curved walls on their skateboards. There were plenty of spills, and some bruises. The kids were in charge of how many runs they made, and how fast or slow.
Their dad encouraged them, and gave them feedback on technique. You have to experience gravity and momentum, slope and speed to know how they work, right? He stayed present right along side them as they learned.
Parents want to protect their children. So, they often feel the urge to make problems go away. Yet, as children become teens and adults, they often need a safe person to talk to about challenges. They want support to explore their own solutions. A parent can be a valuable source of strength as a trusted guide, without taking over.
Of course you want to keep your kids from harm. Yet a parent’s job isn’t to help kids avoid every possible mishap. Your compassion during life’s hard knocks helps build resilience. Your presence does a lot to help your children face challenges, fix mistakes, and become happy, independent adults.
Why Let Your Children See Your Mistakes Sometimes
It’s tempting to try to hide mistakes and doubts from your children, especially as a parent. You want to assure your kids you are 100% strong and reliable. But showing your human side – sharing your questions and mistakes more openly – won’t damage the faith and trust children place in you.
In fact, children benefit a great deal by seeing how you respond to your own mistakes. They learn to navigate difficult feelings through life. When you admit a mistake and apologize, children see how to mend missteps in relationships.
Repair is vital for healthy relationships. Everyone makes mistakes. What hurts most is ignoring the emotional impact on others. When your children see how to address hurts between people, you empower them to build strong friendships that can help each person grow.
When children see there’s no problem with owning up to their mistakes, they learn the power of vulnerability and courage. They learn they can build trust in relationships despite imperfection in themselves and others.
Modeling Being An Imperfect Parent and Making Repairs
We all learned that “please” and “thank you” are magic words. I’d like to suggest some more magic phrases to heal relationships, borrowed from Louise Penny (one of my favorite authors):
- I don’t know.
- I was wrong.
- I’m sorry.
- I need help.
These phrases allow vulnerability. If you model these for your kids, you will raise wise children. Think about it: we grade children on what they know, and hope they do well. Where is there room to invite curiosity? It’s when we admit NOT knowing!
Here’s the magic in saying, “I was wrong.” It avoids defensiveness, and invites reconciliation.
“I’m sorry” invites repair and forgiveness.
The biggest challenge might be: “I need help”, is often extremely tough for the self-reliant. What a wonderful gift to your children: to show how you can take care of yourself and let others help.
It’s vital to acknowledge that one person can’t do everything by him- or herself. It goes against the ideal of self-sufficiency in our culture. But the most successful human efforts are collaborations, not from striving alone.
The same goes for showing emotion. If something makes you sad or angry, talk about it. Let family members know how you are feeling and why. And most of all, take time to enjoy expressing love and caring.
A parent’s strength often comes through when setting limits with love. One adult friend I know wanted her father to help her buy a car. But he believed it was time for her learn to pay for it herself. “I’d love to help you honey, what’s your plan?” he said, making clear he offered advice and not money.
Helping your children feel seen, safe, soothed and secure with you is a priceless gift. This kind of bond fosters a deep sense of connection and wellbeing. There’s no need to be perfect, to provide all the answers, or to hold up unrealistic standards.
Compassion for mistakes allows everyone to learn how to handle things better in the future. That’s another invaluable life lesson for resilient, fully human living.
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