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If Mistakes Are Opportunities, I Guess That Makes Me An Opportunist

You know when you lose your shit on your kids and then you are instantly filled with remorse and regret and wish you could rewind and just start all over again?

I had one of those moments the other morning.

I didn’t really lose my shit.

But I was hard on Number 3. Too hard.

And I said something regrettable. Something I think can be particularly damaging, because I’ve been on the receiving ends of these words, and they stung. A lot.

They stung so much I haven’t ever forgotten them.

Number 3 has set a goal for himself this swim season to qualify for a big meet in Virginia in August. He’s been working really hard. And he had a somewhat disappointing season in the winter because he got really sick before championships and missed two weeks of swimming which is kind of a big deal as far as training goes.

I want so badly for him to qualify for this meet because he deserves it and because a lot of focus and attention has gone to Number 4 in the past six months as far as her swimming success goes, and I think he feels kind of overlooked and underestimated.

So when I woke him up the other morning and he refused to get out of bed, I freaked out a little bit.

Well, internally I completely freaked out.

Externally, I was more composed. But I was still freaking out.

I reminded Number 3 of his goals. I reminded him of what happened last season. I told him this was not the time to skip a swim practice.

He told me he just couldn’t get out of bed. He was in tears.

Internally, silently, I was saying, If he misses this practice, he won’t make  Zones,and he will be devastated. The whole season rides on this practice. (All ridiculous thoughts, by the way)

Externally, and out loud, I said, I’m disappointed in you.

Ouch.

Clearly he was already exhausted and struggling. Telling him he was a disappointment didn’t exactly help.

There was no kindness or understanding in my voice. Only judgment and shame.

Understandably, he stayed in bed.

Ugh. The disappointed-in-you thing is the worst.

It’s one of the things I vowed I wouldn’t say to my kids.

It’s not the first parenting vow I’ve broken.

After I took some time to reflect on this, I realized what I was actually feeling.

I wasn’t disappointed in Number 3.

I was concerned. And worried. And panicked.

Number 3 stayed home, and I left for practice with Number 4 about fifteen minutes later.

That was all the time I needed to think about what I had said and realize what I was really feeling and what I had done.

I had made a mistake.

Making mistakes sucks. It doesn’t feel good.

I stopped silently beating myself up after a couple minutes.

Because while this was a mistake, it was also an opportunity.

One of the things that pushes my buttons the most is when my kids take zero responsibility for messing up.

It drives me crazy.

But one of the things we often forget is that this refusal (or inability) to take responsibility for mess ups is a learned behavior.

Our kids are often afraid to acknowledge their mistakes because when they make them, we lose all our compassion and understanding. And we lose it.

We often yell, belittle, humiliate, and shame our kids when they make mistakes.

Who would willingly walk into that fire?

I know I wouldn’t.

Plus, we very often fail to acknowledge our own fuck ups.

As a result our kids rarely have examples of healthy and responsible behaviors when it comes to mistakes.

We can’t really blame them for not wanting to own up to them!

So after a couple minutes of silent reflection in the car, I said to Number 4, “I feel bad about how I handled Number 3 not coming to practice.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Well, I said some things to him I wish I hadn’t said,” I told her.

We talked a little more about it. And I felt a little bit better. I had at least given Number 4 an example of how to acknowledge a mistake.

When I got home, I went right up to Number 3’s room.

I apologized for handling the situation the way I had.

I used every ounce of restraint to not add a “but…” after that.

Not “I’m sorry, but I was worried” or “I’m sorry but I just want you to do well.”

No buts at all.

I told him he’d been working so hard, and I know he’s really trying and pushing  himself, that I blew things way out of proportion and forgot what was important, and in the future, I’d trust that he was listening to his body and making the healthiest decision for himself.

And then I gave him a hug and told him I loved him.

He smiled.

And all of a sudden, the mistake had gone from a bad thing, to a pretty good thing!

I think as parents, we are often afraid to acknowledge our mistakes. In doing so, we are afraid our credibility or authority or power is diminished.

But the goal isn’t to control our kids. It’s to guide them in the right direction and provide them with the skills and tools and awareness to be decent, responsible, self-confident, contributing and happy members of society.

And when we don’t model the behavior we hope to develop in our kids, it’s unrealistic to think they will somehow magically learn to do it on their own.

One of the biggest gifts we can give our kids is the gift of knowing it’s okay to be imperfect. That takes so much pressure off of them, and it provides them with the permission to acknowledge a mistake.

Taking ownership of your mistakes really makes you more relatable  and more respected.

And that’s what parenting is about. Developing respectful relationships with your kids. Respect that goes both ways.

The next time you mess up, remember the three R’s of recovery from mistakes:

  1. Recognize the mistake — “I wasn’t listening to you or understanding this morning!”
  2. Reconcile — “I’m sorry. I apologize.” (NO BUTS!)
  3. Resolve — “In the future I’ll trust that you know what’s best for your body.”

You will be doing your kids (and yourself) a big favor.

Making mistakes does not make you a bad parent.

But acknowledging them definitely helps to make you a good one.

 

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Number 7’s Birthday. Scene I. Take II.

Yesterday I wrote a post about mistakes and how I want to use those situations to teach and model for my kids how they are just opportunities for growth.

And then this morning I fucked up pretty badly

Ugh. 

And after that whole post yesterday, I’ve spent most of the morning beating myself up!

It’s so fucking annoying, because I know better.

It’s Number 7’s birthday today. She’s 5. I’m sure I’ll write more about that later.

But since this is her first birthday where she’ll be in school all day and she won’t be home to do fun stuff until about 4:00 and I didn’t have my shit together enough to pull her out of school early and do something alone with her, I figured there were other ways I could make her birthday special.

I would make her birthday morning as perfect as possible.

So I got up early.

I made pancakes.

I even made chocolate chip pancakes.

I made bacon and cut up oranges and was feeling really on my game.

Number 6 came downstairs and said, “Wow! This is a yummy breakfast today, Mommy!”

A little while after that, Number 7 came downstairs.

I wished her a happy birthday and gave her a hug.

Then Number 6 walked over to her and, unprompted, gave her a hug too.

It very Norman Rockwell and everything was going according to plan.

Numbers 2, 3, and 4 had already left for school.

A little while later Number 5 came downstairs.

With at least 40 minutes before the buses were coming, Numbers 5, 6, and 7 had already finished their breakfast and all they had to do was get dressed. The morning was going perfectly.

And then Number 5 yelled down the stairs, “MOMMY! WE ALMOST FORGOT! TODAY IS MY PICTURE DAY!”

Fuck.

I forgot about the damn picture day.

And Number 5 is the kid who is the most concerned about what she’s going to wear and how her hair looks and all that stuff.

We hadn’t picked out an outfit, and she was going to want a special hairdo…

I felt myself immediately tense up.

I told her to figure out what she wanted to wear, and about five minutes later she came downstairs and told me she had no pants at all. She also had nothing “nice” to wear.

Great.

At that same time, Number 6 informed me he didn’t have any clean pants.

Thankfully, Number 7 had gotten herself dressed during this time.

But that Norman Rockwell atmosphere had pretty much evaporated at this point.

I went upstairs to help Number 5 find a picture day ourfit, and she wasn’t really exaggerating. I looked in her drawers and in her closet, and she really didn’t possess one single thing to wear that was kind of nice. She had some jeans, but no tops that weren’t t-shirts or tank tops.

She has a couple super fancy dresses that were handed down to her from friends, but nothing that was appropriate for school.

So she started crying.

How could this happen?

Number 5 used to have a ridiculous amount of clothes. Now she had nothing to wear.

How did I not realize this?

She was freaking out. I was trying to stay calm.

I went into Number 6’s room to find pants. I couldn’t find any.

He had two pairs in the dirty clothes (and they were seriously dirty so I couldn’t pull them out and throw them on him), one pair that “don’t feel right” and another pair that he ripped holes in the knees the last time he wore them and completely destroyed them.

So now he was in the same boat as Number 5. I told him he’d have to wear the pants that didn’t feel right.

Now he was crying, too.

I went downstairs to see if there were any stray clothes that would work for either of them in the dining room.

As soon as I got to the bottom stair, the commotion upstairs started.

Number 5 told Number 7 what Number 4 got her for her birthday, and Number 6 was really not okay with that, and they were totally yealling at each other and approaching the I’m-going-to-kick-your-ass stage and Number 7 was just standing there like What the fuck? Can I get those Shopkins right now?

And then 5 and 6 were crying and not dressed and, well…

that’s when I lost my shit.

I totally snapped. And I screamed at Number 5.

SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP!!! I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! SHUT THE HELL UP!!!

Well, that kind of ramped things up and now everyone was seriously losing their shit.

So much for that perfect birthday morning for Number 7.

Actually, she was the only one who wasn’t having a meltdown.

She looked at me and said, “Mommy! At least I’m not crying, right?”

Ugh.

It was not at all how I envisioned the morning going.

Not at all.

So I have spent the last few hours really feeling badly about it.

I’ve also been trying to find the learning opportunities here.

And I’ve realized a couple things.

While I lashed out big time at Number 5, the reason I was so upset wasn’t really because of what she was doing. It was because I was mad at myself. I felt like I let her down. I should have helped her get prepared for picture day ahead of time. I should have realized she didn’t own anything that she’d feel really good about wearing to school on picture day.

And I should have known that Number 6 didn’t have any pants to wear because I should have had him get that stuff ready the night before.

And ultimately, the biggest thing that I was beating myself up over is that now that all the kids are in school during the day, I should be on top of all this shit!

But there I go shoulding on myself again.

Shit happens. Transitions are hard.

This transition from having to operate in extremely chaotic conditions 24/7 to not being under constant pressure at all times is really challenging me. And I feel like it shouldn’t be.

But it is.

And that’s okay.

So I’ve learned a couple things in the last few hours.

I need to do a clothes inventory for the kids and figure out what we need to get so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again.

I need to get back on track with making sure we are ready for school the night before. I need to stay consistent with having the kids be responsible for getting their things organized.

Monday we didn’t have school and I let all of our routines fly out the window. Then last night I didn’t get home until 9:15 and I didn’t hold the kids accountable, and it came back to bite all of us in the ass this morning.

So the lesson has been learned.

I already knew this, which is another thing that frustrates me.

But sometimes you forget and sometimes you need a gentle reminder.

Other times you need a huge slap in the face.

I guess today I needed a slap.

I’ve got two hours before the kids come home.

Just like I know I need to do with the kids, I’m going to hold myself accountable for the things I need to do if I want the rest of the day to run smoothly.

When Number 5, 6, and 7 get off the bus, I’ll give them all a hug. I’ll apologize for yelling. I’ll let them know what I learned from my mistakes this morning and last night.

And then we’ll start over again this afternoon with a clean slate.

Cause we’ve got a birthday to finish celebrating.

 

 

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You say mistakes. I say opportunities.

My great grandmother was a strong, tough and opinionated woman with a thick Swedish accent.

And I was completely intimidated by her.

She was a good lady. She was more of a mother to my mom than her actual mother was. But she had a very hard shell, and I never felt like I was able to crack it.

She died when I was young. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but most of my memories of her are about being afraid that I was going to do something wrong and that she was going to yell at me.

I don’t think she realized this was how I felt. I don’t think this was her intention.

But my most vivid memory of my great-grandmother is not from any of the Christmas Eves we spent at her house. It wasn’t from any of the family get togethers which were filled with relatives and food and laughter.

My mom and dad often helped her out around the house.  I remember going to her house while my dad cut the grass, and I remember picking up sticks around her yard and raking leaves.

I remember her giving me pretzels and orange juice for a snack and sitting on her front step eating and drinking while I watched my dad work in the yard.

One time we were up at her house, my great grandmother was cleaning the floor on her screened in porch. The floor was cement and it was painted gray and she was mopping it with a big bucket of soapy water.

I don’t remember at all how it happened, but for some reason I went out onto the screened in porch and somehow, I  knocked the bucket over. And all the dirty soapy water spilled out onto the floor. It went everywhere.

And my great grandmother looked at me, and in her super thick Swedish accent she yelled, “LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE DONE! YOU ARE THE CLUMSIEST GIRL I KNOW! NOW I MUST CLEAN THE WHOLE FLOOR ALL OVER AGAIN!”

And that moment has never left me.

Ever.

40 years later, when I think of my great grandmother, this is the first thought I have.

It obviously had a pretty big impact on me.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

I’ve been thinking about it because it was a simple mistake.

I was a shy and sensitive kid. I was a people pleaser and a helper and I always did the right thing and I never caused any trouble.

Your typical first-born child.

I was nothing like Number 4 or Number 7.

So whatever I did to knock over that bucket, it wasn’t because I was being a pain in the ass or because I was out of control or because I was a rambunctious or spirited or energetic child.

I just made a mistake.

And my great grandmother made it abundantly clear that making a mistake was not okay. It wasn’t excusable. It wasn’t understandable. It wasn’t an opportunity for growth or learning or anything positive.

But it was a big opportunity for blame and shame and humiliation.

I don’t think my great grandmother was alone.

I think this is common.

Unless we are complete sociopaths, we all feel pretty bad when we fuck up.

But for some reason, those of us on the receiving or observing end of the fuck up forget this.

And we feel the need to make sure we make the person who has fucked up feel even worse.

We are going to make them feel really, really, REALLY bad.

Then we’ll attack. Hit ’em while they’re down. We will make them feel as bad as humanly possible.

That will get them to change!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel too motivated to do anything when I’m feeling really shitty about myself.

Because this little snippet in time, this five second incident had such a big impact on me, I am more aware of my reaction when the kids make mistakes.

But there are still many, many times when I’m not very forgiving or understanding.

Where I find myself making the kids feel bad.

Saying things like, “What were you thinking? Were you even thinking at all?”

In the past I’ve said things like:

“What is wrong with you?”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Are you crazy?”

“What is going through your head when you do this stuff? IS ANYTHING GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD?”

(Oh, I’m sure there are things going through their heads when I speak to them that way, but not the things I’m talking about.)

On another note, I’ve been thinking about some of the things that make parenting so hard.

I’ve been thinking about the things that moms, in particular, do to make their jobs even harder.

And this has led me to just thinking about what makes being a human being so hard.

And I think one of the biggest things we have done as a society is to send each other — and especially our children — the message that mistakes are bad.

That making mistakes is something to be ashamed of.

That when you make a mistake you are incompetent. Undeserving. Stupid. Thoughtless. Worthless. Clumsy.

The list could go on forever.

Feeling shame for making mistakes is not good.

Because we all make mistakes.

ALL THE TIME!!!

It’s part of being human.

It’s also part of how we become better/stronger/healthier human beings!

By fucking up and then learning from the fuck ups.

Clearly we don’t want to encourage our children to seek out ways to fuck up.

But when they do, beating them up, belittling them, making sure we make them feel even worse, well, that doesn’t help.

Because that teaches them to grow up into adults that don’t want to acknowledge their fuck ups.

It leads to teaching kids to feel shame and to lie and blame.

It doesn’t teach them to take responsibility for the mistake and learn a lesson from it.

It teaches moms to beat themselves up when they make a parenting mistake, and it teaches them to judge and blame themselves and each other.

This is not good!

It’s also one of the reasons I feel the need to put my fuck ups out there.

Financial problems? Marital problems? Whatever problems? Some of the reasons we got there are beyond our control.

But some of the reasons are also just because of some pretty significant fuck ups.

I could obssess over those.

Or I could focus on how all of these things have also been seriously big learning experiences!

And how I’m a stronger and smarter and much more compassionate woman/mother/wife/human being now because of it.

I did feel shame. There was lots of shoulding on myself.

I’m an educated and intelligent woman.

I should have known better.

I should have saved more.

I should have spent less.

I should have predicted the future. 

I shouldn’t have said that. 

I should have said this.

After reminding myself that I was human, and refusing to continue feeling shame, I started acknowledging situations and then taking responsibility for making changes and finding solutions.

And when I shared my experiences, other people felt more comfortable sharing theirs.

I’m not saying we should all operate with reckless abandon and throw caution to the wind because we are all gonna make mistakes at some point anyway so we may as well just fuck up all the time.

But I am saying that we are much more likely to take responsibility for our mistakes and to view them as learning opportunities when we aren’t ashamed of them. And when we accept that they are inevitable.

And when we even get to the point where we invite them.

Yes!

Invite mistakes!

Let’s go back to my great grandmother.

I know she didn’t mean to do this, but that five second incident on her screened-in porch taught me to feel bad about making mistakes. It taught me to fear my great grandmother. It taught me that I was clumsy (and I wasn’t at all, but I was convinced I was after that). It taught me that no matter how good I was, I still would never be good enough.

She wasn’t the only adult in my life who taught me this.

But she was definitely instrumental.

Now imagine if my great grandmother had approached the whole incident differently.

Imagine if after I had knocked over the bucket of water she had said to me, “Whoops! What was it that you were doing to knock this over? What can we learn from it? And what do we need to do to clean it up?”

I certainly wouldn’t have spent the rest of her time on the planet being afraid of her. I would have been much more likely to take responsibility for whatever it was I did to knock the bucket over. And I would have learned that when you make a mess, you clean it up (and that when you do that proactively, people are much more likely to help you!)

And I would have learned that making a mistake in an opportunity to learn something rather than an opportunity to skewer someone.

I think of this also because not too long ago there was a video circulating around Facebook. It was of Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx. And she explained how success is not possible without failure.

When you have an extra 90 seconds, watch it.

That video was originally intended for businesses and entrepreneurs. Toward encouraging people to take risks and learn from failures.

But she mentions in it how her father would ask her at the dinner table what she had failed at that day. And how he would congratulate her and celebrate her failures.

Imagine if we all did this every day.

Imagine if we made discussing our mistakes a safe and normal and healthy thing to do!

Imagine if we all asked our kids to share a mistake they made every day. And if we shared a mistake we had made with them.

Imagine if instead of teaching our kids to be ashamed and to feel really bad about fucking up, we taught them to be honest and open and reflective about where they had gone wrong?

Imagine if we let them know this was a part of growing up. (And a part of life even after you have grown up).

I imagine this would help them to feel accepted and loved, even when they had messed up.

I imagine it would show them that making mistakes is a part of being a human being.

I imagine it would lead to a society that didn’t feel the need to constantly pretend to be something they weren’t. A society that didn’t feel the need to deflect, point fingers and blame.

I imagine it would be really awesome.

And it’s something I’m going to start doing at my dinner table.

Of course, when you rarely have a night where your entire family is home to eat dinner at the same time, that poses another challenge.

But that’s a whole other blog post.

So maybe it won’t be at the dinner table. Maybe it will be in the car or on the couch or at the pool or on the baseball field or wherever.

But the next time my kid makes a mistake, I’m gonna remember my great grandmother. I’m going to remember how I felt on her porch. I’m going to remember how I felt about myself after that day. And I’m going to remember how long it has taken me to realize that I’m not clumsy, I’m not a bad person, and that mistakes are okay.

And then I’m going to respond with, “A MISTAKE! This is a big opportunity! WE ARE ALL GOING TO LEARN SOMETHING GREAT FROM THIS!”

And that’s going to feel great for all of us.

 

 

 

Making mistakes simply means you are learning faster.

Last week in New York a woman killed herself by jumping out of her 8th story apartment window.

She had her 10-month-old son strapped to her chest.

The baby, miraculously, survived.

In fact, he was almost unscathed.

Postpartum depression appears to have been the reason.

This mom was also completely overcome with guilt because her son had fallen.

Twice.

Once from a playset, and once from the bed.

She (wrongly) thought she had caused him permanent damage.

And it pushed her over the edge.

I’m thankful that I’ve never had any issues with postpartum depression.

But I have had plenty of issues with good old major depressive disorder.

So I can relate on some level.

And the mom guilt…

Well…

We’ve all been there.

Most, if not all, of us have had a scare with at least one of our kids.

A scare that sends you spiraling into the “what ifs?”

But I don’t think people want to talk about a lot of that stuff because, well,

you feel like shit.

A failure.

You can’t imagine that any other mom would ever let anything bad happen to her own child.

Well, at least not a good mom.

So let me make you feel a little better.

When Number 3 was just a couple weeks old, I was breastfeeding him in bed.

I fell asleep with him on my chest.

And I was jolted awake.

By the sound of him falling face-first onto the floor.

No carpet.

No nothing.

Just his face and the hardwood floor.

A combination of a SMACK and a THUD.

I will never forget that sound.

It was one of the worst moments of my life.

And I’ve had some pretty bad moments.

I was sure I had fucked him up for good.

He was screaming.

And bleeding.

Just thinking about it now still makes me sick to my stomach.

And I couldn’t even silently live with the guilt.

Because my three-week-old son had a busted lip.

And bump on his forehead which was growing increasingly larger.

So I had to call the doctor.

And tell her that I just dropped my infant on his face.

I couldn’t even get the words out.

I was hysterical.

Almost hyperventilating.

The nurse told me I was not the first person to make this kind of call.

And that babies are pretty resilient.

Kind of like Bumbles.

Bumble022

They bounce.

So ultimately, Number 3 was fine.

But I wasn’t.

It took a long time to get over that one.

A looooong time.

If you are there right now, I get it.

And while I can’t totally comprehend the magnitude of what postpartum depression does to your thought process, I sure as hell understand the magnitude of the grip it has on a person.

I know it’s real.

If you are struggling, please know this:

notalone_side

And if you’ve had a fuck-up and your kid has gotten an injury,
 don’t beat yourself up over it.
 You’re going to make plenty (more) mistakes during this whole mom thing.
 Take it as a learning experience and move on.
 You’re doing the best you can.
life-quotes-05
 Oh, and if you’re breastfeeding your baby in bed….
 Get your ass in the middle of that sucker.

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