As someone who works with children and is a mother to a preschooler, I have a wish for all of the children in my life: I want them to make mistakes both great and small.
I want them to make the wrong choices from time to time and live with the consequences.
To some, this may seem a bit shocking and cruel. After all, don’t we want to shield children from pain? The answer is of course. It’s natural to want to do that whether they are our kids or someone else’s.
However, many of us want to shield them from all the ills of the world and that is neither realistic nor desirable.
As the product of a dysfunctional up-bringing, I vowed to be the perfect parent. In fact, I so obsessed with not doing the wrong thing and screwing up my daughter’s life that I had a panic attack or two during her first year of life. When she failed to walk on time, I was convinced that I had somehow done something wrong even though her pediatricians assured me I wasn’t and that her delay was caused by her anatomical structure inherited from her father’s side of the family.
Still, the feeling that I should have and could have done more did not leave.
It wasn’t until I finally confided my feelings of inadequacy to a wise friend that I had an epiphany: as she pointed out, I turned okay despite my parents and myself.
Between the three of us, we made several mistakes that should have resulted in me losing it or ending up a statistic a long time ago, but that was not the case.
Without going into all the details, my own childhood was neither particularly safe nor stable. (I once had a therapist remark that she was genuinely surprised I never turned to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.) While I was always the “good girl” at school and excelled academically, there was a part of me that was self-destructive which was evident by the situations I chose to put myself into.
This became apparent as a young adult when I made a series of poor choices when it came to personal relationships, including becoming involved with a number of emotionally and physically abusive men. While some might assume I would immediately blame these choices on my up-bringing, the truth is, I do not.
My past may not have given me the tools to make the best choices, but they were ultimately my choices and I live with the decisions I made.
Seeing how I turned out despite all the “wrong” in my life helped me see that overall, I was doing a good job when it came to parenting.
While I cannot say that my early life was one that I necessarily would have chosen if given the choice, I can say that it was a gift in that I was allowed to see and do a lot of wrong things and learn from them. As my late grandmother once said, sometimes we receive presents in odd packages.
While I have no desire to see my daughter or any other child experience the extremes I did, I would like them to know that it is okay to get a lot of things wrong and still end up relatively happy in life.
In fact, I believe that there are some things that I treasure more because of my past—like an “ordinary” day where nothing bad happens.
Therefore, I say to all those kids out there: make mistakes. Learn from them. Know that getting some or a lot of things wrong does not automatically doom you to a miserable life.
Lastly, I hope that when you fall you will be lucky enough to have someone there to hold you and help you back up again.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman