Forgiving Yourself as a Parent
Posted by Cheryl L. Erwin, MA, MFT Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer on 1/26/2011
Facebook is an intriguing invention. I was hanging out there one evening and posted my status at the moment, which was that I was writing parenting commentaries for my weekly public radio show. “Does anyone have any suggestions?” I wondered to my Facebook friends.
Not four seconds later, a message from a Positive Discipline colleague of mine who lives in Ohio popped up on my screen. “How about this? How do you forgive yourself when you discover that you’re using the television as a babysitter for your child, even though you don’t think that’s okay?”
Good question. In fact, I think all parents have a sort of “hall of shame” filled with moments when they recognize that they’re not living up to their own expectations. Mine includes the first night I decided to let my son cry himself to sleep instead of picking him up—and discovering after two long hours that he had a fever of 102 degrees. Antibiotics and some hugs fixed him right up, but it took me a long time to forgive myself. Or there was the time when I neglected to check the news in the morning, loaded up my son for kindergarten, got the car stuck in a snow drift, discovered school had been canceled for the day, and had to get a ride home with a kind janitor. True story, sad to say. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle our kids even survive us.
I’m lucky: I’ve been able to use most of my parenting mistakes (and I’ve made many) as material for these commentaries and in my books about parenting. But there are still moments that make me cringe internally, moments when I was wrong, impatient, overly critical, or just plain silly. My son, now 26 and a practicing attorney, seems to love me anyway and he’s certainly turned out far better than I had any right to expect. But what do you do when you make mistakes as a parent?
Well, let’s start with the obvious: parents are entirely human. Just about every parent I know takes raising children very seriously indeed. They read books and magazines, go to classes, and talk about child development, discipline, and building a strong relationship with their children with friends, family, and book club members. We share photos, success stories, and our children’s small triumphs and lessons. But it’s sometimes harder to talk about the times when we blew it, when we were less than wise and loving. And so, because we don’t often talk about our failures, we don’t get the opportunity to learn how many of our friends have been through the same humbling experiences.
Perhaps it will reassure you to learn that your mistakes as parents provide you with wonderful opportunities to connect with your children and to teach them valuable lessons about being human. Children learn far more from what you do than from anything you say: when they watch a parent accepting responsibility for poor judgment or losing his temper, they learn that it’s okay to admit mistakes. It also gives children the opportunity to learn to forgive—and I have yet to meet the child who isn’t willing to forgive a parent who sincerely asks.
So here’s the drill. If you make a mistake or a poor decision, or you behave badly, admit it openly and calmly. You can say something like, “I don’t like the way I handled that—can I try again?” Or, “I lost my temper and I know I hurt your feelings. Will you forgive me?” Clean up any messes that need cleaning up; repair any immediate damage. Then do your level best to learn from your mistake so it doesn’t happen again. For instance, I learned to always check to see why my son was crying before deciding how to handle it. And although I never watch television in the morning, you can bet I learned to turn on the news or the school district’s website if the weather looked even a little iffy.
Most important, I learned that no matter how much I know about parenting, I will always be human and thus capable of blowing it, despite all my good intentions. Over the years, I’ve become skilled at owning my own mistakes, at apologizing from the heart, and at learning how not to make the same mistakes again. It may be the most valuable parenting lesson I ever learned.Cheryl Erwin
is the co-author of several books in the “Positive Discipline” series, as well as the “Everything Parent’s Guide to Raising Boys.” She is a marriage and family therapist in private practice in Reno, Nevada, and has a weekly commentary on parenting on KUNR (88.7 FM), www.kunr.org
I love Positive Discipline! The respect for children is so beautifully explained. The explanations just resonate with me as a mother. I make many mistakes or "opportunities to learn" so this article was very uplifting and encouraging. I wish there were more classes in the New York area as I would go to them all!
Kerry, Why don't you become a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator and start teaching classes in New York. :-) There is a Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way workshop coming up in New Jersey in May. You can find dates and locations at www.positivediscipline.org
Or, you can take the DVD training. As you know, we need CPDPE's in New York. :-)