Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Recovering from a parenting mistake

Posted on Owning Pink

parenting misstep

I made a mistake this week. It's nothing new, I make them all the time. My errors in judgment usually come when I am overly tired, I am trying to get something done (other then giving 110% to my children), or I am generally drained from a lack of self-care for the mama. My slip-ups usually come in the form of getting frustrated, raising my voice, or not following through on a consequence out of sheer exhaustion. My mistake this week was a big one though -- one that went against everything I stand for, everything I value in being all me all the time, and everything I try to teach my children about self-love.  
The story
My three year-old son, who isn’t exactly a novice at inadvertently insulting people (because he clearly has no sensors), hurt my feelings this week.  He caught a glimpse of my bare arms, which he hasn’t seen since the weather got cold, and announced, “Mom, your arms are so hairy you look like a man.” He was right; my arm hair was staring to rival my husband’s -- but still, even from a three year-old this comment made me very self-conscious. My mistake? You had better bet that the next day all of the hair on my ape-looking arms was gone. Later that night, my five year- old daughter was cuddling and petting me like she often does and said, “Mommy, what happened to your arms?” It was in this instant I had realized my mistake. I changed my appearance because of a comment someone else made about my body. Bad Mommy. Bad, Bad Mommy!  
While I’m confessing, it is not the first time I have done this. My tactful second child also made a comment about my mustache a few months ago -- which I then got rid of immediately. Are we sensing a theme here? And. while giving a lesson about kindness to a bunch of kindergartners, one especially lovely child raised her hand and asked, “Why do you have a corn tooth?” I bought Crest whitening strips the next day.  But the difference with this arm incident was that I got caught... and now I have to own the example I'm setting for my children.
What did I just teach my children?
I preach about self-love to my children constantly. I teach them that they are uniquely beautiful individuals in the perfect packages in which they came. I was so pissed at myself for not having enough self-love to tell my three year-old to stick it in his ear and embrace my hairy arms. I was even more disappointed that I didn’t use this very situation as a teachable moment for both my children. Did I inadvertently teach my daughter that the first time some stupid boy tells calls her “thunder thighs” that she begins to starve herself? Did I just teach my son that the first time someone makes fun of his nose that he asks for corrective surgery? What I should have said was, “You are right, mom has hair like a champ on her arms -- and I love me just the way I am!” I could have used that moment to talk about tact, accepting diversity, or how he hurt my feelings. But nope -- I was wounded and I messed up.
How To Recover From A Parenting Mistake
In all of my parenting errors, none of them were irreversible. So I chose to use my poor judgment itself as a teachable moment, and recovered just fine. So as my arm hair is beginning to grow back for good, and I am terribly itchy, I pass on to you my technique for recovering from a parenting error from one imperfect parent to the next:
  1. Recognize that you were wrong. In the heat of the frustrated moment, or in the throes of panic, we don’t always make the best choices. If something isn’t sitting right with you after the fact, accept and own the fact that perhaps you've made a mistake.
  2. Apologize to your children. Not only does this show respect for your child, but it teaches them the powerful tool of apologizing and taking responsibility for their actions.
  3. Use the situation as a teachable moment. So you messed up -- now what? The only wasted mistakes are the ones you don’t learn from.  Take this opportunity to talk to your child about making mistakes and that nobody is perfect. Tell your child what you wish you would have done or said. For extra impact, you can role-play it again the “right way.” Your kid will love this part!
  4. Reflect on why you reacted this way so you can learn from the experience. Where did this reaction come from? Is there a pattern? Is there something that you need to be calmer and more centered, so that you are better equipped to respond instead of react out of emotion?  The way we feel on the inside deeply affects our parenting.  
  5. Forgive yourself and move on. That’s right -- forget about it! If you even completed #1, you are self-aware and concerned about your parenting. Sometimes awareness is all it takes for change. Don't waste time beating yourself up about it and feeling guilty. You will make plenty of more mistakes, at every stage of parenting to mull over.
With you in your parenting journey!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Family, Gratitude and Guilt

Post on Owning Pink

Lessons in unexpected places
We are not church going people, but we attend one time a year for the childrens’ service on Christmas Eve. It is mainly because our kids ask us to take them and we feel a sort of obligatory duty to expose them to church if they are asking. We figure they will listen to the pastor speak about love, kindness and being a part of something bigger then themselves. All good stuff. This year however, it was I who learned the greatest and most unexpected lesson.
It was 3:45 when we discovered that the service started at 4:00 and the church was 12 minutes away. Anyone who has young children knows nothing good can ever come of rushing a child. But…when you have a mom with poor time management, it happens despite the best intentions. We had the typical arguments about going to the bathroom, brushing hair and teeth, changing into the jeans without the gaping hole in the knee, and that wearing a fancy dress without tights in 20 degree weather was not an option. We managed to get to the church at 4:02 with empty bladders, tangled hair, holey jeans, bare legs and some fine fresh breath. I’m all about compromises! 
As we arrived at the church, out of breath, off centered and sweating from the physical struggle of madly wrestling two young children in and out of car seats at the speed of light. I looked around the church at all the put together families. Almost all of them had on their “Sunday bests" --  the women were perfectly put together, the little girls with proper tights and hair bows, and the boys and dads with dress pants and fancy sweaters. I looked at my disheveled clan and thought to myself as I often do, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you get your family to an event on time and looking presentable -- ever?” Is it that my children just have stronger temperaments then most, so everything becomes a battle of the wills? Is it due to my poor planning and fly by the seat of my pants attitude that seemed to work just fine for the 30 years of my life before children? I started down that familiar road of Maybe I’m just not cut out for this motherhood thing…everyone else does it better. Everyone else looks so happy, why am I so uptight right now?”
Then my self-pity and blame came to a screeching halt.
Beautiful Family
In the middle of my ridiculous thoughts, in walks a family that even now writing this post, continues to bring tears to my eyes again. I saw a mom, dad, a boy about 12 and a girl around 10. They all wore matching Christmas sweaters and Santa hats. The boy was disabled and needed both parents on each side of him to walk him down the aisle. The girl, who appeared to have Downs Syndrome, picked up his hat as it fell off his head when he awkwardly angled to sit in the pew two rows ahead of me. At first I looked away, because along with my familiar road of self-wallowing comes a lot of guilt. I was so embarrassed of my thoughts two seconds prior to seeing this family. And I’m worried about being two minutes late, a couple of knots in my kids’ hair, and some mashed potatoes on my shirt?
I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. The rest of the church was non-existent to me. I didn’t hear a single word of the minister. I couldn’t tell you what songs were sung, and I don’t even know if my own children were behaving. I was hyper-focused on this beautiful family. They sat very close together, I think partially to help the older boy sit up. The siblings were playful with each other. There was a lot of hugging, snuggling, and eye contact between all the family members. The mom and dad somehow managed to connect with each other on numerous occasions by a smile or a loving pat. They sang songs together, they smiled and they looked to be madly in love.
This mom was owning her moment. In this instant, she was owning her life, her children, her family. I do not. I often complain and wish I had easier children, that they slept better, that I had more help, and that I was more patient. I am always working to improve this perspective of my life. Here I was with my two beautiful children next to me, not appreciating them. I was watching this woman, feeling jealous of her and the way she was enjoying her family. Tears were streaming down my face and a nauseating ball of guilt was taking over my body. I felt an overwhelming need to connect with this woman. I wanted to hug her, to cry and to beg her forgiveness for having these ungrateful thoughts. I acknowledged my feelings, pulled myself together and waited for her after church. I slowly walked up to her and said, “I sat two rows behind you and just wanted to tell you that you have a beautiful family. The four of you are so full of love, and you are a wonderful mother.” A little puzzled, she smiled, and only said, “Thank you.” 
The lesson
I thought about nothing other then this family the entire 12 minutes home. I am still thinking about this family. Although they had a profound emotional impact on me, I am still not sure of the lesson. Was it to be thankful for what you have? You are only dealt what you can handle? Was I bearing witness to pure love? Was it that god loves you no matter your bad breath, ripped jeans and tardiness? Was it to teach me the priority in my life? Was I shown this lesson in particular because of my own struggles to find enjoyment and confidence as a mother?
Over the years I have learned to own my less then fulfilling moments as a mother. I found freedom in admitting that I am not a natural mom, that caring for my children is not my main identity as a woman. The guilt for not being super-mom is still there, and I own that too. This is a part of who I am, and I embrace that. But why this lesson on this day? Perhaps this was not a lesson for me at all -- and this mom needed a bit of recognition or encouragement at that given time. Maybe I needed to have this experience to write this post in order to help someone else. I’m just not sure. I would like to say that I have been more tolerant of my children and myself since this lesson, but I haven’t (and yep, I'm owning that too). I do believe this was a powerful message; I'm just not sure what it was yet. 
What do you think? Have you ever had trouble owning the relationship you have with your children? How does seeing other families in action affect your view of yourself and your family? Has anyone else ever experienced a profound emotional experience and wasn’t sure what to make of it? Did your resolution ever come?
Heather Sobieralski
Life Coach for Moms