We all manage, sooner or later, to do or say something that we wish we hadn’t or that we didn’t really mean. Or perhaps it is simply a case where our actions or words are not taken as intended. Whatever the case, what do we do then?
My mother was of the impression that parents had to be perfect in everything they did. Whether her actions were inappropriate or she simply misjudged, she could never bring herself to say that she was wrong in her parenting decisions. When I was young, I thought she was perfect. But as I grew older, I began to feel the confusion and aggravation that came with knowing that she would never admit that she was “wrong”. Later, much later, I began to see the internal struggle that she went through when she was confronted with such a situation. The idea that she was “wrong” was more than she could bear and she would go overboard in trying to reassure herself that she was still “okay”.
I grew up feeling that true perfection was a goal to which I should strive. That is an impossible expectation of anyone and a tumultuous one to place upon yourself. I know, for I suffered terribly for that one expectation that I had of myself and that I felt others had of me.
The truth is that none of us can be perfect. We will never, no matter how hard we try, be the perfect parents. As we have all heard before, “Children do not come with instruction manuals” and “No two children are the same”. We are never going to be able to anticipate each child’s every need or action for which we will need to respond. And we are going to make mistakes. So, as parents, what are we to do?
My advice is simple: Be human. As humans, there is a motto that we should strive to achieve (also a cliché, sorry folks): “To err is human, but to forgive is divine.” I never heard the words, “I’m sorry” from my mother when I was a child. Only in the past few years has she said these words to me. As a result, I believe that parents were exempt from having to apologize or accept “blame” for any of their decision, right or wrong.
As single parents, we are under a LOT Of pressure! We have to make all the decisions, catch all the problems, and deal with everything completely on our own. Regardless of your beliefs, it takes two people to create another human being and I believe that is because it is best that children are raised by more than one adult. There are so many responsibilities that come with child-rearing and when you have to deal with them alone, it can be – as you all know – incredibly stressful. And for some of us, there is no other option…
One of the most effective parenting tools I have found is honesty. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, it should be. But try to understand how difficult it may be to someone who was raised that they must be a perfect parent and they are facing the idea that they are “wrong” and have to deal with it. Not quite so simple then.
My daughters have heard the words, “I’m sorry” from my own lips more times than I can possibly count. Not in a way that undermines my authority or that states that they were necessarily right. But in a way that states that perhaps there was another way which I should have handled the situation. Along with those words also come a statement of “right and wrong” on the incident at hand and my reaction to it, the wisdom of thinking before we act or speak, and how the incident should have been handled more appropriately. Hugs and forgiveness soon follow, and while discipline decisions may be altered (if that was the action that was inappropriate), they are never rescinded. I believe, to suffer through yet another cliché, it is referred to as “an iron hand in a velvet glove”.
I prefer to think of it as “being human”. Parents aren’t going to be perfect. We try to the best of our ability, but there is no way to ever get it right all the time. And, I believe that is the way it is intended. For what better way to teach children of the qualities of forgiveness, responsibility, and the fact that we, as humans, are prone to error than by working through such situations in reality. As single parents, we probably have more of such opportunities by the sheer fact that we get the privilege of dealing with all such situations ourselves. Opportunity is one that for which we certainly do not lack!
So the next time you do something human – yell at your child after a hard day, over-react to a situation, make a mistake – quickly forgive yourself and then make use of the situation as a training exercise for your child. You will find that not only is it an excellent teaching tool, but you will actually strengthen the bond between you and your child as he/she comes to realize that you are simply human, too.