By Erin Finn, Family Life Educator
A few weeks ago, my 4-year-old daughter and I sat side-by-side at a family birthday dinner. As I chatted with a relative, my daughter began to pull on my sleeve, trying to interrupt and get my attention. I pretended not to notice, not wanting to give her my attention for impolite behavior, and carried on the conversation, but she was not to be ignored. She continued to tug on my clothing and say, “Mommy . . . MOMMY . . . MOMMY!!!!” Finally, I snapped; I turned to her sharply and said in a loud, angry voice, “WOULD YOU BE QUIET AND EAT YOUR CAKE!!!” My daughter’s face crumpled as she replied, “Mommy, I just wanted to tell you that you have chocolate on your face.” My relative chuckled and said, “Nice job, parenting teacher!” I laughed also and replied, “We make mistakes too; we just feel twice as guilty afterward!” I hugged my daughter and allowed her to wipe the chocolate from my face. Then I apologized for being rude and explained why I had become angry.
I reflected on the incident for several days afterward. As a part of my work at The Parenting Center, I read a great number of books about families and parenting. Why is it, then, that I still make mistakes? The answer is, of course: I’m human! I get tired, hungry, or angry just like any other person. I plot revenge for minor incidents. (I considered throwing away my daughter’s princess coloring set when her stubborn search for a lost marker made me embarrassingly late for an important event.) I act selfishly sometimes. (I gobbled down the last of my little girl’s candy bar while she was sleeping and pretended I had no idea what happened when she looked for it the next day.) And I did scold her in a restaurant when she was simply trying to keep me from looking foolish.
I feel guilty about these things. I want my daughter to have a mother who is loving and fair, not crazed and frequently coated in a layer of stolen chocolate. But one important thing I’ve learned from my parenting books, the thing that I remind myself of in these moments is: it’s not about whether we make mistakes or not. Because we will make mistakes; it’s inevitable. It’s what we do next that counts. Do we hug our children and apologize? Do we talk with them and explain? Do we do better the next time? The thing that matters in parenting is what we do with those mistakes. When we learn from them, we become better for our children and we show them how to handle life with wisdom and humor. We teach them how to bounce back from missteps and to expect the best from themselves but not perfection. And if allowing my daughter to learn these lessons requires me to have a taste of “humble pie” along with my cake at family get-togethers, then I say, “Let’s eat!”