Max made a big mistake at a sleepover party recently. He is 10 years old and just beginning to navigate the social pressures of fitting in with his peers and older kids. He is experiencing consequences in the form of punishment and reversal of some autonomy. He is taking responsibility for his mistake by amending his behavior and writing apologies to the adults and peers that were harmed by his action. He has regret, guilt, and anger at himself. I hope these feelings imprint the experience in him in such a way that he will develop a strong hold on his own values and boundaries when in a group setting. I hope to prevent him from feeling shame over his behavior. Guilt is feeling “bad” for what we have done and shame is feeling that we are a “bad” person because of what we have done. My maternal instinct was to comfort him and reassure him at the same time as delivering some of his consequences because mistakes are a part of life and a part of becoming who we are.
I have made many mistakes in my life, however I think I’ve missed out on more by giving in to the fear of getting it wrong, of making a mistake. One of the great joys of parenting is being able to share the lessons that I’ve learned from my life, and attempt to guide my son in such a way that he realizes himself with the support of unconditional love. Parenting has been the greatest gift of this life, not only because of the joy that comes from giving unconditional love but also from the fierce self examination that is necessary to guide from that love (as opposed to from the needs of my identified self AKA ego).
I had to ask myself, what part did I play in Max’s mistake? I must look at my own decisions and take responsibility for my own behavior in order to move beyond my own fear of judgement and embarrassment over what he did. My willingness to accept how my actions may have contributed to his behavior, frees me so that I can parent from a place of unconditional love and support. My son is intellectually, socially and emotionally intelligent, to an exceptional degree, I’ve been hearing this from all of his teachers since he was in pre-school. These qualities make him a joy to parent, but also that I have given more autonomy and independence than he’s really ready for. Holding myself accountable for these mistakes is creating consequences for my son without blaming or shaming him for his mistake.
I hope that his takeaway from this experience will be that mistakes are a part of growing up, and that when you cause harm, it’s safe to amend your behavior with action and words. Watching him and guiding him through this experience (not to mention preparing for the coming teenage years) has been a good reminder to myself of the freedom that comes from trusting myself to take risks, knowing that it’s ok to make mistakes.