Getting it Right, After You’ve Gotten it Wrong
by Susan Besze Wallace
It was an hour of patriotic pageantry at my son’s pre-K graduation that I painstakingly second-row videoed. Didn’t want traveling dad to miss a single song. That night, I also taped our second-grader’s “Temples and Tombs” program on Egypt. A big day in our family, and I couldn’t wait to relive it all together.
Unfortunately, I taped over the morning program, which was so fabulous I couldn’t wait to peek but forgot to properly re-cue the camera. Did I mention my 5-year-old was wearing his dad’s dress-blue uniform and had been chosen to hold a flag?
Once-in-a-lifetime stuff. Gone.
Mortified and mad, I declared aloud, really loud, what a total failure I was. I kept rewinding in disbelief. The kids’ mouths gaped. They’d never seen or heard me “dis” myself like that.
We all come up short sometimes. We forget. We disappoint. We run late. As parents we know that when our kids goof up, we are to model forgiveness and take advantage of teachable moments. But that extends to parents as well and all the way around the family tree — from the big sap to the smallest seedlings.
It took me weeks to get past that disappointment! Even though I know I learned from my mistake, it wasn’t the end of the world, and my kids saw my husband give me grace. It got me thinking about our responsibility to show our kids how to learn from failing, let go and move forward. I don’t want them to become like adults who get “wrapped around the axle” and are unable to find perspective.
How do you handle life’s letdowns? How do your kids?
Here are some thoughts about helping everyone in the house process their missteps — hopefully before “I’m so dumb” comes out of anyone’s mouth.
Think small. Little lessons can help in bigger situations. When your child spills sugar while helping you make cookies, or can’t write a perfect “S,” point out how to do it better next time, and that all chefs and artists learn by trial and error. Next time you burn or butcher something, remember they are watching.
Think where you came from. Consider how your parents reacted to mistakes or losses. Knowing our influences can help us slow down and adjust our reactions. Are your kids mirroring you mirroring someone else?
Think visual. For kids, letting go of an incident might need to happen by actually letting go. Clench your fists so tightly it hurts, and then pretend to throw your mistake, or bad day, far, far away.
Think outside yourself. History is full of true tales of success after struggle. Walt Disney’s first studio went bankrupt and Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity basketball team one year. Your own ups and downs can serve as lifeboats amid your children’s disappointments too.
Think building blocks. Gaining self-esteem is a process of meeting challenges, not simply finding success. Encouraging your child regularly — and not with empty praise — can fortify them so they aren’t so easily torn down when they come up short. Realize you are a person created by God with value and worth. It isn’t just what we do that matters, but also who we are.
Think tomorrow. Remember that things always seem worse in the moment. Look back tomorrow and show yourself, and your child, that you made it through to a new day and fresh start.
Susan Besze Wallace is a writer based in northern Virginia and mother to three boys who forgive her often. When they get down on themselves, she’s known to say “Please don’t talk that way about my child.”