Recently, I was reminded of an "incident" that happened a couple of years ago. You know, one of those "incidents" where you simultaneously learn lessons about humility and grace at the same time? When you get whiplash from swinging from one of your parenting low points to seeing evidence that maybe you're not doing such a horrible job after all?
Here's what happened: The twins were at a free play session in a local children's gym. There were lots of children and adults there, and things were typically chaotic. I'd been getting my workout by trying to keep tabs on both of them as they played (of course) in completely different areas of the gym at the same time. While my eyes were on my daughter, they were off my son, and vice versa. It was during one of these moments that I lost track of my son. Completely. I looked everywhere, and was quickly moving from actively-engaged-parent to mildly-freaked-out-parent to utterly-panicked-parent, when I spotted him. My heart stopped and then started again about a thousand times faster. He was under the trampoline. And some bigger kids were about to start jumping on it. Instantly my mind flashed through at least a dozen ways that could go, and most of them involved an ambulance and neck brace.
Needless to say, I stopped the other kids from jumping, reached in and pulled my son out, explained to him (in that whisper-shout that every mom knows) that we were leaving now, collected my daughter, and held down the volcanic eruption within my until we reached the car. Once they were both strapped in and safe and the doors were closed, I lost it. I completely lost it. I yelled louder than a banshee at a rock concert, chastising him for being totally unsafe, telling him how badly he could have been hurt, how he was not going to be participating in free play at the gym for...ever? It's possible I may have said forever.
Clearly my lizard brain had taken over and logic was a distant memory.
About mid-way through this tirade, as my children sat shocked and silent, I somehow managed to re-engage the logic part of my brain, ever-so-slightly. I decided to try to turn a horrible moment into a teaching moment.
"I'm so angry! I'm angry because I was so scared he would get hurt, and now I'm yelling and I don't like it and I don't know what to do!"
"Mommy, you need to bweathe," my daughter said.
"I do?" I replied.
"Yeah. You need to breathe, Mommy," my son said.
"I'm not sure I remember how to do that. Can you help me?"
"Sure!" both my children chirped. They then began to give me instructions on how to take a deep breath in and blow it out, demonstrating as they did so. I complied, and began taking deep breaths in, blowing them out, over and over.
After four or five breaths, I said, "You're right. This is helping. I feel a lot calmer...." because it was true. I did feel calmer. I was able to shift out of screaming-out-of-fear parent to the connected kind of parent I want to be. We talked about why I had been so frightened, what the consequences could have been, what the consequences would be (no free play for at least two weeks, during which time he would show me during classes that he could remember the safety rules), and what behavior we would all change in the future (following the safety rules for him, remembering deep breaths sooner for me).
This memory blossomed while talking with another mom about how to gloriously model imperfection. That mistakes can be hidden gifts. That, as parents, we need to not only understand that perfection isn't the goal but that we need to model how to handle our own flawed moments.
In our house, we have this mantra: It doesn't have to be perfect; it has to be good enough. Whether it's drawing or spelling or cleaning up a mess...or parenting. Demanding absolute perfection from ourselves and our children is a path I've seen too many parents set their families on, and it is fraught with peril. Because first of all, what is perfect? How do we define that in our daily lives? How often is it truly attainable?
But more importantly, how will we learn if we never make those mistakes? How do we grow? How do we learn to deal with adversity and challenges and all the messy imperfections that are simply part of life? How do we teach our children how to fix their mistakes and reconnect with those we love? And how do we foster that sense of resiliency every one of us needs to get through a life filled with ups and downs?
For me, this particular memory puts a spotlight on my own failings. Obviously screaming at my children is not the kind of parent I want to be. Quite the opposite. I could have taken that moment and berated myself and felt horrific guilt and been sure I was a horrible monster.
But then...that moment of grace. As I was modeling how to fail spectacularly as a parent, my children showed me they'd been listening all the times I wasn't failing.
So I want to share this mantra with all of you, parents at the intersection of humility and grace: I am far from a perfect parent, but evidently I'm good enough.
Telling Your Brain the Truth (or, I Guess They DO Listen!)