In a previous post, I shared about one of my major parenting mistakes--especially early on--being fearful of what others would think of me and my parenting and my children.
While I am not going to write a post for each of my parenting mistakes (that blog series would last years!), I do want to share some of the bigger mistakes I made. Especially since I see moms today struggling with some of these same issues.
The second major parenting mistake I made was being afraid of failure--both my own and my children's.
In many ways I was a perfectionist. I thought that doing things perfectly would make me secure. Mistakes and failure were viewed as horrible things to be avoided at all costs. I assumed that knowing what to do should result in doing it--perfectly. That this is what others expected of us; what God expected of us.
This line of thinking was extended to my kids as well. I didn't necessarily think these things at a conscious level. And I didn't intend to teach them at any level. Nevertheless, both our actions and our words speak loudly about what we really believe.
I was afraid for our weakness to be known. Sometimes I tried to keep weaknesses hidden by jumping in and rescuing my kids when a mistake was about to be made or to be made public. This gets tiring very quickly, and it robbed them of opportunities to grow and learn. It would have been better to let them fail--whether it was due to not doing what they were supposed to do or doing it poorly. Failing would have forced them to struggle with their choices and the natural consequences of those choices
If it was merely a matter of attempting something and not succeeding, failure would have helped them see it was not the end of the world. That it was okay to try something and have it turn out differently than we had hoped. And that it was okay to try it again. Or try something else that seems risky.
I read a helpful quote recently by Elizabeth Saunders. She said, "Ironically, perfectionism can also inhibit your ability to reach your full potential. If you refuse to put yourself in a situation where you might give an imperfect performance, you'll prevent yourself from receiving the proper feedback, input, and direction necessary for additional growth." This is so true. We grow and learn from mistakes and others' feedback and input (and criticism!).
I remember when one of our sons was applying for college, I was concerned that he wouldn't come across as "well-rounded" enough. He was an excellent student, a hard worker, a very good athlete, and a delightful kid. But doing well in school and playing sports did not leave a lot of time for other pursuits--at least, not if he wanted any margin in his life. He was a kid who needed space in his schedule to relax and unwind. He had made healthy choices, but now I was concerned it would look like he was lazy and unmotivated. He would be seen as a failure!
Is this crazy? Yes. Is it healthy? No. Am I the only mom who struggled with this? Probably not. Yes, some kids seem to be able to do it all, to be involved in everything and excel at all of it. But many kids are just trying to make it through the day. This doesn't mean they are failures.
The flip side of not wanting our weaknesses known is wanting our strengths to be publicized and praised. We don't want to be seen as failures; we wan't to be viewed as a success! This is prevalent in sports and academics. These were the two areas that hit closest to home for me. All of our kids were good students and outstanding athletes. And that felt good. I found some sense of identity in that. I am ashamed to say that it affected me much more that it should have. If they had a good game or won an academic award, I felt validated. If they played poorly or got a low grade on a school project, I felt insecure.
It's so satisfying to see your child's name or picture in the paper with praises and accolades. We often aren't satisfied with participation and effort, we want our children to be The Best, #1, Top Dog, scholarship-worthy. Somehow this validates us. Whether we intend to or not, we send the message that this validates them as well.
A lot of what I'm sharing here happened in the recesses of my heart as opposed to outwardly where it could have caused major harm and wounding to our children. But that is only because of God's grace. When I see parents stressing over their third-grader's athletic performance, I think of all of the energy and emotion they may end up pouring out over the years in pursuit of the accolades and scholarship offers. And it usually isn't worth it. Our oldest son went on to play college basketball and I think I learned some of my hardest lessons during that time. Even though he excelled, I must have aged ten years watching those games! Now he plays in a semi-pro league and I don't stress at all. I think part of that is that I'm not surrounded by parents and coaches and fans and pressure. He's an adult and he enjoys what he's doing. That's what matters. My identity is not tied up with his performance.
If we are Christian parents, this concern about failure extends to our children's walk with God. We want to portray their hearts and motives as being pure and wholesome at all times. I've been a Christian for over 30 years, and my heart and motives are not pure and wholesome at all times! No surprise there. But it is surprising that we can expect our kids to be little "saints" and we can freak out when we are confronted with selfishness, laziness, and unkindness--very un-Jesus-like attitudes! What did we expect? We're all in this together. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We need to get over it and remember that's why we need a Savior!
Fear of failure is very closely related to fear of man. Let's face it. If we lived on a deserted island with our kids, we would probably parent a lot differently than we do in our comparison-crazy culture. We'd let the kids fail and flounder at times. We'd be wonderfully okay with them being their unique selves and not looking like someone else. We'd be much more transparent about our own shortcomings and deal with them head-on rather than make excuses and attempt to justify and cover up.
Good things happen when others see us fail, because then the truth is made public. We aren't perfect. Our kids aren't perfect. On the outside or the inside. We can be free to fail. Ironically, this makes us free to try lots of things with boldness and confidence.
Just this morning, I had a difficult conversation with our daughter. She had been afraid to tell me about a recent failure. What timing! I was able to express my unconditional love and acceptance of her, and she was able to be set free from the lie that her failure defined her.
Jesus came to set us free. Free from all kinds of things that keep us imprisoned. Like fear of failure. We are not loved because we are perfect. We are not kept because we are performing well. We are not delighted in because we have a winning personality. We are not adored because of our outward beauty. Frankly, we do not receive any of the incredible, eternal gifts of God because of anything we do. We are safe and secure in the love of God because of God's goodness and kindness and faithfulness.
And this is what we want our kids to know. That life can be good, even when they aren't performing. Even when they aren't Number One or Athlete of the Week. Even when they aren't "well-rounded" and proficient at a hundred things. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not a hard task-master. He wants to lead us beside still waters, not have us wear ourselves out trying to do everything perfectly.
We can rest. We can be okay with failure--ours and our kids'. We can let everyone know the truth--we are weak and wounded in many ways; imperfect and, at times, rebellious. But we are known. We are held. We are loved. Always and forever.