Tag Archive for: mistakes

It occurred to me this morning that I’ve spent much of the last three weeks borrowing trouble. I am feeling a little frantic, fairly depleted, and terrifically confused and I have brought it all on myself.

I have been relying on my tendency to be a ‘fixer’ instead of sitting back and owning what is mine to own. To borrow a phrase, I have been “leaning in” far too much.  As a parent, it is difficult for me to separate what is mine from what belongs to my daughters, but every time I get entangled in their stuff, I learn the same painful lesson – namely, that nobody is getting what they need when I jump in and try to make things better.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve been fooling myself that I wasn’t really getting involved. Instead of telling my girls what to do, I simply went and did a ton of research and offered up the Cliff Notes versions as potential solutions. I have done a great deal of listening, given many hugs and words of encouragement and left them with strategically-placed notes that I fervently hoped they would take to heart.  And then I have left the room and entered my own head. I have spent hours debating strategies, ordering and reading books that I thought might give me important insight, reached out to other mothers for ideas, and basically ignored all of my own stuff in an effort to help my girls.

I understand that it is important for my kids to experience pain and disappointment and come out the other side.  It is horrible to watch, but as a parent, I know it is more harmful to try and shield them from the slings and arrows of life than it is to let them feel the sting and discover that they will survive despite it.  That much I am clear on.  What I realized this morning is that because it is uncomfortable for me to see them suffer, my agenda involves them acknowledging their suffering and moving on quickly. I want them to take the fast lane to enlightenment, drawing on my experience and knowledge instead of taking the time to form their own, and have an “a-ha” moment in record time. I want their wounds to heal completely within days or hours and leave a scar that will help them incorporate this wisdom into their lives forever. Voila!


The other night when I pushed my way into Eve’s room to offer all of the information I had gathered while she was at school, she got angry with me.  She tolerated my 20-minute download, but just barely, and then asked me to leave. My feelings were hurt. I felt unappreciated and instantly angry that she didn’t see how I had sacrificed hours of my day to ruminate, investigate, and collate on her behalf.

Within minutes, I got a text message from her that made me sit down hard.

“I’m sorry I was rude. But I didn’t ask you to do all of that. I have a plan. I am figuring out how to deal with this and you have to give me a chance to do it my way.”

She was right. In running around searching for answers and spending time and energy fixating on how to help my girls deal with the disappointments they experience, I am serving my own need to be useful, to solve a problem, to fix something.  There is a fine line between giving thoughtful advice when it is asked for and projecting my own stuff onto someone else. In my experience, it is always easier to see how to solve someone else’s problems than it is to work on my own.  When I hover over my kids and offer solutions, even if I’m not advocating for one over another, the message I’m sending is that I don’t trust them to figure it out on their own (at least not as quickly as I would like). I am also not giving them the chance to truly integrate the lessons of these challenges into their lives. They can’t remember pain from the scars I carry and as much as I might talk to them about my personal mistakes, in order to learn, they have to make their own.

All of this isn’t to say that I can’t love my girls fiercely and worry about them and offer my two cents. I will also not hesitate to jump in if I think there is a situation they absolutely are not equipped to handle yet, but getting emotionally tied up to the point where I set aside my own life in order to spend hours thinking about how to help my kids is a waste of energy. This morning I found myself exploring several scenarios in an effort to help Lola with something she hasn’t asked for help with and it stopped me short. I have a lot to do today and Lola’s got this. If she doesn’t, she’ll let me know one way or the other, but indulging my desire to have things tied up neatly and see my kids happy is only going to make us all crazy.

I was asked today how I think my daughters’ school views failure and I cringed.  I hate that word. It is so full of rot and worms and gut-wrenching stink.  The first thing I did was to reframe the conversation in terms of mistakes, and then I dug in deeper.

I don’t know where we as a society got the notion that mistakes aren’t allowed, or at least that only mistakes of a certain type are allowed.  I remember teachers handing papers back to me with a final grade written on them in red ink at the top and feeling either defeated or elated depending on the score (which I rapidly translated from a number score to a letter grade in my head, don’t you know).  I remember accepting that this was the way it was. You get one chance to take that test or write that essay and the grade you get is the grade you get.  But that isn’t real life, is it?  And it certainly isn’t a reasonable expectation. I think if we asked, no parent or school official or teacher would say that they expect their students to come in, sit through a lecture, absorb everything the teacher says, and perform perfectly on an exam. Desire? Yes. Expect? No. Schools are for learning, and learning simply can’t happen without missteps.

Last year, Eve had a math teacher who expected the girls to turn in corrections on their math homework.  If it was clear to him that they hadn’t quite understood or mastered the content by the looks of their math papers, he would return them to the girls and ask them to rework the problems they had answered incorrectly.  He offered to stay in at lunch or after school to pore over the papers with students who just hadn’t quite figured it out yet because his goal was that each of his students truly learn the material he was teaching. He didn’t have a bell curve he was working toward.  He wasn’t compelled by some external drive to “get through” a certain amount of material. He wanted these girls to understand what he was teaching and he lived it every day.

How often do we get “corrections” in life? Everywhere, I’d say.  Just because I try out a new recipe one night and it bombs, my family doesn’t ‘fire’ me from cooking anymore.  I’m not branded a failure in the kitchen and asked not to return.  Life is about reworking problems, looking back to see where we went wrong and making it a little better next time.  Unfortunately, I think we don’t offer our kids that much slack at school.  So many students are frantic to turn in perfect papers that they stay up all night tweaking every last detail or resort to buying someone else’s work to turn in. They take round after round of pre-SAT tests in order to increase their scores as much as possible before applying to colleges.  They give up on themselves if they can’t master a particular subject, or if they can’t master school itself.  We are doing them a disservice if we continue to send them the message that there is only one way to learn and if they don’t figure it out, they’re doomed.

One of the biggest reasons I love the school my daughters attend is that the teachers embrace mistakes. They expect mistakes. They encourage the girls to step outside of their comfort zone and try things they are afraid of just to see what happens.  Yes, they have high academic standards, but those standards revolve around comprehension and utilization of the material they are taught, not regurgitating memorized material on a test or being at the top of the bell curve.  Their teachers believe that one of the biggest components of learning is not knowing. I mean, honestly, isn’t that the only prerequisite for learning? That you don’t already know?  In this equation, effort and resilience are the most important traits a student can have, and given that those characteristics are vital to the rest of their lives as well, don’t we want to instill them in our kids instead of some completely unattainable ideal of perfection?