Earlier today I shared this post from The Autistic Teacher on the Not Your Average Mom Facebook page:
A reader left a comment acknowledging we all make mistakes, but also questioning, shouldn’t we be striving to be the best that we can be?
I started to reply to this comment and then decided to address it in a blog post.
I spent the first 45 years of my life attaching my value as a human being to my results.
I only felt good about myself when I did something REALLY well.
When I failed at something, I was a failure.
When someone else did something better than me, I was a failuire.
When I set a goal and didn’t achieve it, I was a failure.
I have worked for a very long time to feel good about myself as a human being whether I’m kicking ass or getting my ass kicked.
Being the mom of athletes and also a coach, I have seen what being focused on results does to my kids, and the kids I coach.
I used to be that mom. I focused on places and times and results.
And while I had the best of intentions – I just wanted my kids to have success in whatever they were doing – I was unintentionally causing a problem.
A pretty big one.
I was sending my kids the message that I was proud of them when they did well, but not so proud of them when they didn’t.
When I focused on my kids’ times, my kids were learning that their times were more important than they were.
This was never a message I wanted to send to my kids.
Because it’s a message that was sent to me and it made it really, really hard to feel good about myself.
Like almost impossible.
It’s taking me a long time to undo this way of thinking about myself.
People who feel bad about themselves don’t generally try harder to do better next time.
They give up.
They turn to things that take away the pain of self-loathing.
They drink or do drugs or gamble or overeat or do whatever helps them forget how badly they feel about themselves because all their self-worth is attached to their results.
This I’m-only-worthy-of-love-and-respect-when-I’m-the-best mentality gets more and more deeply ingrained into their brains.
This is how performance anxiety starts in athletes.
They only feel successful/important/useful/valuable/good about themselves when they win. When they do well.
They can’t find anything good or positive in a swim that isn’t a best time. Their success is only relative to whether they are beating other kids.
When parents focus on kids’ times and make spreadsheets and have laptops in the stands at swim meets so they can immediately update their kids times, when they have binders with results, when they pay their kids for best times – yes, I’ve seen all of these things – they are sending the message to their kids that the only thing that matters is their results.
We don’t mean to send this message to our kids, but we do.
We convince them (and it doesn’t take much convincing) that their value lies in their results.
We teach them that they ARE their results.
It’s usually all downhill from there.
Mistakes, mess ups, failures and not achieving goals we’ve set for ourselves are absolutely necessary.
When you are learning to walk you fall all the time.
Every time you fall you either get a little bit stronger from standing back up, or you learn something new that helps you figure out how to walk a little bit farther the next time.
You know why toddlers don’t give up on the whole walking thing?
Because they don’t tell themselves they suck when they fall.
They’re like HEY! I’M FIGURING THIS SHIT OUT! LOOK AT ME MOM! I’M LEARNING!!!! I’M AWESOME!
When our kids first start using a spoon to feed themselves and they smear food all over their faces, we aren’t like, “WHOA. YOU TOTALLY SUCK AT THIS WHOLE EATING THING.”
We encourage the crap out of our kids. When the spoon even gets close to their mouths we clap and celebrate.
Then somewhere along the way many of us stop celebrating the effort. We stop the encouragement. We stop focusing on progress.
And we start focusing on results. We want them to be the best. We forget about how much we learn along the way.
I’m SUCH a better parent than I was seventeen years ago.
Some days I’m an amazing mom. Other days I’m bringing up the rear. I could have said this in 2006 also.
The difference between 2006 and 2022 is that back then a bad parenting day meant I was also a bad person. A total failure.
I wasn’t able to separate my mistakes from myself.
Making mistakes and being okay with them isn’t the opposite of striving to be the best that you can be.
On the contrary.
Making mistakes is what actually enables us to be the best that we can be.
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