Monday, June 11, 2012

Making Mistakes

I'm big on learning from mistakes. After all, if I couldn't learn from my mistakes, then a good two-thirds of my life would serve little to no purpose.

Parenting is a wonderful testing ground for learning how many mistakes you can make in a single day, especially when the kids are very young. Like those days you're rushing out the door. Did I remember to pack diapers, bottles, pacies, thawed breast milk, wipes (the homemade kind that don't make the baby's skin prickle and bleed), bibs, spoons, cereal, fruit puree, extra onesies, and the changing blanket? And if I did remember all that paraphernalia, did I remember to bring the kid?

As they get bigger and develop that persistently annoying skill of communication, the potential for mistakes in all new areas of life becomes a reality. For instance, setting rules and holding kids accountable to them.

First of all, I'm the last person who should be setting rules and expecting anyone to follow them. I am a consummate non-conformist when it comes to following rules, not because I'm purposefully disobedient, but because I have a bad memory. If people around me insist upon setting schedules and routines they expect me to follow without having to remind me about them, they are only setting themselves up for disappointment, and no quantity of gingko biloba is going to change that sad fact.

And discipline, that's a whole 'nother bag of worms! Like most parents, I tend to pride myself on the delusional belief that I am fair. I'll be the first to tell you I am not partial to any of my three children. Each was born with equal capacity for endearment and irritation.

But we all know which one was more likely to hit the other first, and which one talked snotty to the others or wouldn't kiss them goodnight, and which one took something that belonged to the other or wouldn't share, and which one...

You get the point. More than once I've caught myself coming down heavy on an innocent party because I made a false assumption and blamed the wrong kid. In those situations, I've found it important to be the first to recognize my mistake and apologize for it. Yes, the kid I yelled at probably deserved to be yelled at for twenty things I didn't see him do, but he didn't deserve it this time and he requires an apology.

See? That's that "learning from mistakes" thing I was talking about.

And don't think the kids themselves aren't capable of helping you out when you slip up. When she was very young, Our Daughter helped my Father, a self-professed curmudgeon at times, address his behavior when she recognized his temper was shorter than it needed to be. Taking a cue from Blue's Clues, she told him: "Opa, when you're angry, you have to stop, breath, and think."

Perhaps the best advice I've received lately came from the mouth of the German. He was talking about an art class project -- a lovely drawing of a frog sitting on fallen leaves -- and how other kids in the class were growing frustrated when they couldn't get their drawings to come out the way they wanted. He said he pointed out to them how he had drawn his frog too big, so he fixed it by adding another leaf.

"I told them," he said, "when you make a mistake, try to use it to your advantage."

Excellent advice, to be sure, but I'm still trying to figure out how to apply it to my expense report. It was due yesterday and I've only just remembered it.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

1 comment:

  1. It's impossible for mistakes to be used--to your advantage--when it comes to all things math.

    That's why I read and write, and why I flunked math...