Thursday, December 2, 2010

Messing Up

When I taught at a university laboratory preschool, I worked with a combination of adults who were studying early childhood education and a classroom full of young children.  It was a fantastic job--I got the best of both worlds in teaching children as well as working with adults in learning appropriate teaching strategies.  One of the things I learned early on is that most adults share a common fear--making a mistake, especially under a microscope.  So by my second or third year, I had figured out it was critical to reassure my adult students that mistakes were part of learning, and that they wouldn't get "in trouble" for mistakes while they were learning.  I am a strong believer in facilitation--that is, supporting people in their own learning and making suggestions for them to consider, rather than paving the path for them--and this strategy takes a lot of pressure off of learners regarding mistakes.  I would repeat my mantra, sometimes for an entire semester, until my students felt comfortable enough to discuss things that went wrong and how they could have changed their responses.  After all, hindsight is 20/20 for most of us.  And I always told them I would be more than happy to point out my mistakes on any given day, because goodness knows, I make them.

As a mother, some days I feel like I've got this thing down pat.  There is no doubt that I have the best of intentions and that I love and adore my children.  Indeed, they are two of the most important people in my life, with their father and my parents coming in close seconds.  I take my role as a mother very seriously.  But sometimes I blow it.  And sometimes I blow it big.  I say things in a hurtful way, or I raise my voice, or my expectations are too high.  Sometimes I give consequences that leave even me wondering what I was thinking.

I know many of my readers have young children.  In some ways, those years seemed more challenging because there were so many social skills to teach, so many safety rules to review, so much close, attentive watching and entertainment that you go through.  But the rewards are different.  I would pick my kids up from preschool to smiles and dashes to me, as they yelled, "Mama! Mama!" as though Santa himself had just appeared.  There were the gentle hugs and kisses, the cups of the face and the ever-present, "I love you, Mama."  And the laughter.  The little giggles that had a way of erasing any irritation that had crept in throughout the day and making it all better.  And when you watch them sleep?  No matter how they were during the day, you know you've raised an angel.

I blew it last night with one of my kids.  I did something that was hurtful emotionally because I was trying to make a point (for the umpteenth time, and my kids are nothing if not stubborn).  I got a reaction, and a bad one.  And I'm not so sure I didn't deserve it.

Every semester that I taught, there would be at least one day that one of my students burst into tears over their mistakes in the classroom, over the responsibility she had heaped upon herself and the fear that she wouldn't be a good teacher because of her mistakes.  I'd bring out the tissues and talk about the millions of good things she did every day, and that everyone has a bad day once in awhile.  The important thing is to pick yourself up, create a plan for a new day, and keep going.

It's much the same for parents.  So I've thought about my plan.  I've thought about what I need to do to rectify my situation.  Is it perfect?  No.  But did a mistake suddenly erase the ten years I've spent trying my best to be a good parent?  I would hope not.

At the end of the day, people who work with children and live with children and care about those children feel immense responsibility to do the right thing.  We all make mistakes.  How could we learn if we didn't?  How would we evolve into even better parents and teachers?

Just a thought.  Thanks for reading, click the links, and share with your friends...and next time you make a mistake, own it and fix it, then let it go.  Everyone will feel better.