No one likes errors, but we don’t need to handle them in ways that set everyone up for failure. We’ve all been there. We finally have time to go online to buy that perfect gift or to look up that news story we want to know about, and instead of successfully purchasing or reading the article, we get an error message. Immediately our blood pressure rises slightly. We don’t have time for this inconvenience. Yet, there is nothing we can do about the error. Do we complain? Do we give up? Do we say unkind things to our browser or find another browser? What about the internet provider? Do they get a piece of our mind?
What if there was a special place for errors in our hearts? What if we choose to understand errors instead of becoming frustrated or hiding them?
I recently spoke to a young man who confessed to me that he doesn’t tell his parents many of the bad things he does in life, or even all of the good things, for that matter. He feels slightly detached from his parents. He loves them dearly, but just doesn’t feel like he is really good enough for them to know everything about his life. He told me that his parents tell him that being part of their family means he has to be free from mistakes other people make.
Instead of finding this motivating in their pursuit of excellence, as many other youth might, he feels the weight of any bad choice he makes and hides it. The parents might think this young man is a better version of himself than he knows he is. But, the saddest part of the story is that the parents have missed the opportunity to bond closer to their son through his trials and really help him break free because he is always hiding.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this behavior from young people. In fact, I did some of this hiding myself when I was a teen. I assumed my parents would be disappointed in me, but now know they would have been understanding. The feeling that they wouldn’t approve of my mistakes, or wouldn’t love me, was all in my head.
Space in the Heart
My parents had space in their hearts for my mistakes, but I never tested their love by confessing my mistakes to them. After years of working with troubled teens and raising my own teens, I’ve learned that there are vital things parents can do to let their children know they always have room in their hearts for errors.
First, parents can show mercy and understanding when they talk about mistakes other people make inside and outside of the family. Giving people the benefit of the doubt in front of the children and treating others with kindness, no matter their mistakes or choices, is a memorable and inspiring example of kindness.
Second, parents can regularly initiate conversations with their children where communication doors are open to talk about anything. When parents tell their children that mistakes are part of life and that they expect that mistakes will happen, then children aren’t as worried about telling their mistakes to their parents.
Third, and maybe the most important, is to decide as a parent not to be shocked by anything a child tells us. We can’t take their mistakes personally. It’s important that we realize their actions are not necessarily a reflection of our parenting. Sometimes mistakes happen because a person is growing, learning, exploring, and testing their limits. These mistakes are usually not meant to hurt us. We need to decide not to be emotionally affected by these unfortunate actions.
Finally, always reach out with love when misbehavior is disclosed. In fact, praise the child for talking about the misbehavior. Talking about the problem is the most important part of solving the mistake and making a plan to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Our children won’t be perfect. We aren’t either, so we should view them with love and give support the whole way along their journeys, even during the times when big mistakes are made.
Parents are meant to love their children, and children rely upon that steady love for security and support. When a parent does not make space in the heart for understanding and embracing errors, a child isolates themselves and their parents in an effort to protect all parties involved. To help our children most during these times, we need to create a culture of acceptance of mistakes as part of our family cultures.
Obviously, many errors need to be corrected by parents. I’m not suggesting that parents shouldn’t correct children. In fact, I’m an advocate for very consistent teaching and correcting of children. But, the story of this young man is a great reminder that consistent parenting doesn’t mean children will be perfect or should ever be pressured to be perfect. We are all flawed. We all error and need to learn to fix our errors. But, first we need to learn that it’s okay to make errors and talk about them with those we love.
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