“I made a mistake”
“Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.” ― Salvador Dalí
“I made a mistake.”
These are some of the sweetest words I’ve ever heard my children speak (though not for the reason you might think).
I’ve made countless mistakes as a parent. As inevitable as death and taxes, I’ll make more. Probably before you’re done reading this post, even.
But I like to think that there are some things we’re doing right (with some help from Carol Dweck, Greg Baer and Shefali Tsabary, among others).
One of these things is conveying the value in admitting our mistakes. Or even more accurately, as Greg Baer might say, “telling the truth about ourselves.”
My wife came downstairs this morning to Raisin Bran on the floor. She asked what happened and my five-year old son Ethan, without skipping a beat, said “I’m sorry, that was my mistake. I spilled some on the floor when I was pouring it.”
I paused in mid-bite, wanting to freeze this glorious moment in time. A light shone from the heavens and all was right with the world.
You might think … Raisin bran, what’s the BFD? And of course, spilling a bit of cereal on the floor isn’t a big deal, at all.
Rather, what made me so proud of Ethan in that moment is that he so readily told the truth about himself and his error, without fear of judgment or consequences. This was important for several reasons.
Telling the truth about ourselves isn’t easy. In fact, most of us actually lie to ourselves and others on a fairly regular basis. It’s understandable why we do: most of us don’t feel loved and accepted exactly as we truly are, warts and all. So we minimize, rationalize and hide our faults and our mistakes because we don’t want to feel rejected or incur the wrath of those we inconvenience.
However, the consequences of this habit are serious. In order to feel truly loved, we must first feel as if we are fully seen (just as we are, warts and all) and completely accepted. We can’t feel fully seen unless we have developed the regular practice of telling the truth about our shortcomings. This is even true of loving and accepting ourselves!
It isn’t just our sense of happiness that’s at stake either; life itself is in on the table. When we’re afraid to fail (because we’re afraid of the pain it will cause, whether to ourselves or at the hands of others), we avoid taking risks. Because all forms of personal and professional growth necessarily involve the risk of failure (by definition, if we’re attempting to learn something, we’re not yet good at it), it follows that children (and adults) who are comfortable with making and admitting their mistakes will embrace difficult growth and the sometimes-painful setbacks that are part of the process.
We encourage our kids to tell the truth about themselves and their mistakes and more importantly, my wife and I try to model this behavior to them and with each other. We try to admit our many errors and apologize when we screw up. (However, I emphasize that we try but certainly don’t always succeed.) We try to remind them that mistakes are a part of learning and life and we simply try to learn and do better next time.
I believe this is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. I encourage you to make it a part of your daily lives with your kids, your partner, your family and friends and those you meet in your everyday life.