Let's Get a Serious

Parenting is one of the things we do best, but we do screw up from time to time. We’re human. That’s life.

Some of the parenting mistakes that we make are from the “we didn’t know any better” camp. We felt awful after Eliza’s crib was recalled, for example, worrying about what could have happened to her, but didn’t. A recalled item was something we had no control over, but it felt like a bad parenting move all the same. We felt stupid after the Baby Einstein video “recall”: we used the baby videos, which claimed to make babies smarter, as a way to get Eliza to lift up her head during tummy time when she was a super tiny baby. Turns out, studies showed that the videos weren’t educational and that any TV at that age is a bad thing. Mistake.

The important thing about these mistakes is that we moved on from them. What’s harder to do is to move on from a mistake that is noticeable to your kid.

For example: if one of us dishes out a punishment (usually out of anger or irritation) that the other doesn’t think fits the crime, then Jake and I will stop and have a conversation about it in front of Eliza to make a decision on punishment together. Sometimes she gets input into that conversation too (sometimes we think she did something wrong, but she has a good reason, so we give her the opportunity to plead before the court). We’re not worried about presenting a magical unified front. Jake and I have different opinions sometimes, but we need to reach a single decision when it comes to parenting. We think it’s good for Eliza to see that process.

Eliza also notices when we make personal mistakes. She knows that we sometimes do things that don’t match up with our values. She was explaining my struggle with soda the other day to my grandpa. She told him, “We want to be healthy, but pop’s not good for you, so Mom’s quitting, but she still drinks some on special occasions.” She told him in-depth about my weaning process and about me getting a special non-pop drink as a reward for going cold turkey for the first week. She’s also asked a lot of questions about why people do things they know aren’t good for them (smoking, drinking, eating unhealthy things), and we try to be honest with her about that, too. She pays attention to these things, sometimes way more than we think she does. It makes me so glad that she’s learning the process of recovering from mistakes, even though we wish that the people in her life didn’t make any in the first place.

I made a pretty big parenting mistake two weeks ago. I’ve been a bit of an emotional mess lately. Everything’s been pretty much sunny for the last two weeks, but before that I was battling some hardcore anxiety, which would shift into depression, most likely set off by a few extended family crises. So I got mad at Jake over something small, we were arguing, and I slammed a door. Eliza was upset about this, but in a quiet “I don’t know how to talk about it with you so I’ll pretend nothing happened” sort of way. I know all about that way. It’s not the healthy way.

I felt awful after this occurrence, because I never want our kids to have hear us fight: I want our arguments to be an example of conflict resolution at work. Jake and I bicker all of the time. We disagree in front of E plenty. But that shows her a healthy way to work out conflict. Me yelling over something silly and slamming a door does not teach her to be the master of her emotoins. And, as I remember, it’s scary to hear that stuff when you’re a kid, too.

Even though this was directly a bad marriage move and only indirectly a bad parenting move, it’s still a parenting mistake. We’re big on leading by example, and telling her to use her words doesn’t hold much water if I’m slamming doors. Instead of letting it slide, Jake and I talked to Eliza about it. I apologized to Jake for yelling and slamming the door, told Eliza that I should have talked calmly to Dad instead of throwing a fit. I tell her not to throw fits all of the time (with a chorus of, “Does throwing fits ever get you what you want?”), so obviously I shouldn’t be doing it either. I asked her to think about how she feels when she’s in the mood for a fit throwing. Sometimes it can be hard to do things the right way when you’re upset, even when you’re a grown-up. I told her that next time, I’ll go calm down by myself for a minute before talking about why I’m upset, just like she does when we make her go to time-out until she’s calmed down.

We talked more, she asked questions, and everything’s okay. It was hard for me to do this time around (my natural inclination is to avoid that sort of conversation at all costs), but it fits into our parenting style: we like that Eliza knows that we make mistakes. We’re not these super-human awesome people, and we want our kids to know that. Teaching kids how to recover from mistakes is just as important as teaching them to avoid them. Being honest, apologizing, and making a plan for change is definitely the way to go.

How did your parents or caregivers recover from their mistakes? If you have kids, how do you recover from parenting mistakes?

Let’s Get Serious is a blog series where we share our opinions and put ourselves out there. We get that not everyone thinks the same way; the same things don’t work for everyone. These are our opinions. They don’t have to be your opinions. We’d like to hear about what you think, but please don’t be mean to us. Let’s respect each other and talk about it!

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