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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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Don’t wait for Stage 4.

If you are living down in the depths of depression, do me a favor.

Don’t read all the comments that people are leaving in response to the articles written about Robin Williams’death.

Sure, there are many compassionate and supportive comments out there.

But there are also some very ignorant ones.

And if you are teetering on the edge of the fucking rabbit hole, one stupid comment can push you over the edge.

I have been down in that goddamned hole more than once.

It sucks.

So let’s clarify something.

If you want to call depression an illness, go for it.

If you want to call it a disease, that’s fine too.

Let’s not argue over semantics.

It doesn’t really matter what label you put on it.

Depression is no joke and it’s a big fucking deal.

And while there may be some people who are lucky enough to never have to deal with it themselves, I bet you’d have a hard time finding someone who hasn’t been at least indirectly affected by it.

There is usually only, at most, one degree of separation where depression is concerned.

So let’s say you are sitting down in the sludge of the rabbit hole and nobody knows.

You are afraid to tell anyone.

You think people will judge you.

Or not understand.

Well,

you might be right.

There may be some people who don’t understand.

There may also be some completely ignorant assholes who tell you to just suck it up.

You can’t just suck it up.

I know.

I get it.

And many, many other people know it.

Don’t listen to the ignorant assholes.

Listen to me.

Yesterday I wrote a post about unloading your Fucked Up Shit (FUS).

I have always been a sensitive person.

Ever since I can remember.

I know I’m genetically predisposed to depression.

Then, things happened.

Varying degrees of fucked up shit piled on fucked up shit.

Eventually you have layer upon layer upon layer and it just feels too heavy.

You don’t want to tell anyone because you are embarrassed.

Or you feel weak.

Like you should be able to handle it.

Or maybe you feel like your depression, or the things that caused you to feel depressed aren’t major enough to warrant you wanting to curl up in the fetal position in a corner of your room and stay there.

Forever.

Stop comparing your shit to everyone else’s shit.

Your depressed doesn’t need to be as severe as someone else’s to be serious.

If you found out you had stage one breast cancer you wouldn’t wait until it became stage four to get treatment, would you?

You would take care of that shit before it got worse.

So like I said before, I have always been a little extra sensitive.

And I had very little self-confidence when I was little.

Like, none.

I made a big deal yesterday about unloading FUS.

Well, I’ve still got some that I’ve never unloaded.

Ever.

I have never told one single person.

Not my parents.

Not my husband.

Not any of my eleventy-skillion therapists.

Because I’ve felt like maybe this FUS was my fault.

Or like it wasn’t fucked up enough to be FUS.

But it fucked me up.

Badly.

And I have been carrying this FUS around for almost 40 years.

It’s time to unload.

So here goes.

Like I said before, I was an overly sensitive kid with very little self confidence or self esteem.

I was extremely shy.

And there was a person in my life who I pretty much worshipped.

She was only a couple years older than me.

But she was everything I was not.

Bold and seemingly fearless and outspoken.

I wanted to be just like her.

I idolized her.

One day around the time I was five years old, she asked me to take off my shirt.

I knew it wasn’t okay.

I knew it was wrong.

If felt all wrong.

But I wanted so badly to be accepted and liked by this person, that I couldn’t bring myself to say no.

I did whatever it was that she told me to do.

No matter how wrong I knew it was.

When she told me that she would never talk to me again if I ever told anyone, I sealed my lips shut tight.

I never told.

I so badly needed her to approve of me.

At any cost.

Over the next few years, the things she would tell me to do became increasingly explicit.

I knew they were wrong.

But some of them felt good.

And that really made me feel bad.

I had opportunities to tell someone.

I came close many times.

But I never did.

Eventually, once she was old enough to start dating boys, the encounters stopped.

I was left in this limbo.

Happy that I wasn’t being manipulated into situations that I knew were wrong, but still carrying around tremendous feelings of guilt.

Shame.

Always wanting to tell someone but scared to death I’d be told that it was my fault.

That I should have said something.

That I knew better.

That I must have asked for it.

And then there has been the comparison of my FUS to other peoples’ FUS.

It’s not like I was molested by a step father or a priest.

Or held captive in a basement for fourteen years.

It doesn’t matter.

It fucked me up.

And it’s called child-on-child sexual abuse.

Then, about six years after all that ended, my baby brother was diagnosed with leukemia.

And a year and a half later, he died.

More FUS.

My family never talked about it.

More FUS.

I went to college and sought validation and acceptance the way I had learned to when I was little.

I let people take advantage of me.

I cheated on boyfriends.

Eventually getting guys to sleep with me became a challenge.

During the chase, I felt empowered.

Finally I was the one in control.

In reality, I was completely out of control.

And the next day, I would wake up feeling dirty.

Disgusting.

Empty.

Depressed.

I’d vow never to do that again.

And then, inevitably, I’d break the vow a couple days later.

More layers of FUS.

With each layer, I became more and more depressed.

Eventually one of the guys who I cheated on a boyfriend with got me pregnant.

More FUS.

We got engaged.

3 weeks before the wedding I had a miscarriage.

More FUS.

We still got married.

And then a year later we got divorced.

More FUS.

Around this time I started doing drugs.

More FUS.

I dove back into sleeping with anyone and everyone to make myself feel better.

But it only made things worse.

The depression got worse.

More FUS.

I got engaged again.

I was able to break it off before I made another mistake.

I went back to sleeping around.

More FUS.

Then, I ended up in an abusive relationship.

I wasn’t able to remove myself from it for quite some time.

More FUS.

I got out of that and started dating a guy who was seriously loaded.

I moved in with him.

He was a major pothead.

I became addicted to smoking weed.

Yes, they say it’s not addictive.

It was for me.

I was a fourth grade teacher who was smoking pot almost 24/7.

More guilt.

More shame.

More FUS.

Eventually, one day, I just started crying and I couldn’t stop.

I ended up in the nuthouse.

When I got out my potsmoking boyfriend dumped me.

More depression.

More FUS.

More sleeping around.

Eventually, I met my husband.

We got married.

Very soon after the wedding, I got pregnant.

And then I got pregnant again.

I loved being a mom.

But I was still fucked up.

And one night, after a couple glasses wine,

and a big fight with my husband,

I took an entire bottle of Xanax.

I don’t remember much of what happened after that.

But let me tell you something.

If you think admitting to someone that you are depressed or that you don’t think you can handle your life or that you cheated on your boyfriend or that you’re addicted to drugs or whatever else is embarrassing,

it’s not near as embarrassing as getting wheeled out of your house on a stretcher and into the back of an ambulance and then sitting in the ER or the fucking psych ward, with dark black stains down your chin and the front of your hospital gown after you’ve repeatedly puked up the charcoal concoction the EMT’s made you drink.

I know hindsight is twenty twenty.

And I like to think that everything I went through I went through for a reason.

But I sure do wish I had shared that first round of FUS way back when.

It might have saved me a couple trips down the fucking rabbit hole.

Or at least that last one in the ambulance.

So don’t wait for Stage 4.

Say something now.

I just unloaded a 40-year-old dish of secret with a huge side of shame.

And I feel better already.

Now it’s your turn to feel better.

 

If you need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

 

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