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!


  1. Heather, I really like how you recognized your error, owned it, learned from it and moved on. That's a pretty fabulous thing for your kids to see!

    As humbling as it is, when I make a mistake in front of my kids and talk about it with them, I always feel a sense of relief. It's a relief to accept my imperfections and my fallibility. It's a relief to admit to my vanities and my irrational responses.

    Would I have wanted a perfect mom? Way too much pressure.

    Thanks for writing about this experience!

  2. Hi Heather,
    Thank you so much for reading, leaving a comment, and for sharing your perspective. It is such a great teachable moment for our kids to see we are not perfect-and that imperfection is perfectly human!

  3. Heather's SisterFebruary 3, 2011 at 10:48 PM

    My nephew will LOVE my hairy arm pits. Let me come visit and save you... ;)