“Learn from mistakes.” That’s what we’re taught in school and by our parents. It’s a phrase I have always tried to live by, especially when it comes to parenting. We do our best throughout the years, but mistakes are made. Especially with the first child.
If my daughter came with an instruction manual, I never found it. In fact, I was so proud of myself for reading books before she was born so I’d be prepared, knowing how to get her to sleep through the night and get on a schedule. A few months in and I literally threw those books in the trash. I had done everything they recommended and was still sleep-deprived and crying. Me and the baby. I sarcastically decided that unless the baby read the books and learned what to do, we weren’t going to be successful.
And thus, that was the beginning of years and years of trying to make the best decisions for my child on my own. I used motherly instinct. I did my best to figure out how to raise my daughter using what I instinctually knew about her. Health, education, discipline, growth and development, socialization, mental health, activities. So many decisions to make.
And I regretted several. Many decisions were trial and error. When something backfired, I regrouped and tried another approach.
I began to learn what worked with her and what didn’t. I still feel shame for some things I said and did in those tense mommy moments. However, I pride myself on one thing: I learned from my mistakes and never made the same mistake twice. And if I promised to never say or do something again, I meant it and held myself accountable to this promise.
I was not above apologizing to her after I realized I handled a situation wrong, even when she was too young to fully understand. As she grew older, I would still admit mistakes and she learned to accept this process. After all, she could understand that I had never had an 8-year-old, 10-year-old, 12-year-old before, and I was learning as I went.
Yes, she was my guinea pig.
She is now thriving in a life of her own. She is in her early 20s and fully self-sufficient. We are now more like friends and enjoy adult conversations.
But boy, did she recently put me on the hot seat. She admitted to having some resentment when it came to how we parent her younger brother.
When she was three and he came along, I felt better prepared and more equipped. I had this mothering thing down. But oh, no. He required an entirely different set of dos and don’ts. So, it is true that I have had to handle them differently over the years. Although I raised them both fairly the same when it came to routines, expectations, morals and values, and rules, they required different approaches.
He is now a senior in high school. My daughter compared what her life was like when she was his age. She listed several instances that seemed unfair to her. She gave specific examples about what we allow with him that we didn’t allow with her. Things that we asked of her that we don’t ask of him.
I immediately wanted to justify and explain. They are different people in different situations. But then the truth hit me like a ton of bricks.
Like many parents of older teens, those last few months of them living at home can be rough. Arguing, crying, defiance, deceit. Their desire to be independent and ready to fly. The struggle, the tears. Pure parental heartache. It took some time and healing, but after a while on her own, things between us improved. I will always be her mom, her cheerleader, and a source of wisdom. But I also became her friend.
So, when she confronted me on this parenting issue, I let myself be open and honest: I regretted some of my parenting decisions I made with her at that age.
I held on too tight. I didn’t allow her the freedom she needed. I was intrusive and probably controlling. I put too much pressure on her. I stayed in mom-mode, not realizing that she no longer needed me full force in that capacity. I took our close relationship for granted. I didn’t look far enough in her future to know what she needed from me. I had no clue how to handle this difficult period.
And like many regretted mom moments throughout the years, I didn’t want to make the same mistakes again. I wanted a do-over with her brother. I wanted to try again and do it better. I admitted all of this aloud to her. I apologized for my mistakes and for her luck of being my guinea pig. Just like many of my apologies to her over the years, she seemed to understand. More time may be needed for complete healing.
Bless those first-born children, the parenting pre-test. The first try. May they have forgiving hearts. As for us parents, keep learning from mistakes. Someday we’ll be experts enough to write books that other parents will throw in the trash.