Monday, April 18, 2011

Integrity and Mistakes

So following my last post, The Pissy List (ooh, said the word without the signs, sorry), Kandice posted an interesting pet peeve about parents who don't own up to their own mistakes and apologize for them.  That got me thinking about how often this happens.

When I was a little girl, my parents made a lot of mistakes, like most parents.  I would include myself in that category.  As a teacher, I make mistakes daily, and I always made a point to tell my students so.  And if they didn't know what I messed up on that day, I would say, ask me and I'll tell you.

The reality is that when you're working with people--or living with them or talking with them and especially raising them--you're going to make mistakes.  Some of those mistakes are immediate "oh no's".  The other day my son didn't come home from school on time, so I stormed up there in a tizzy to pick him up.  He came to the office, looking puzzled, and as I stepped out of the office he asked what was wrong.  And I, in my insistence of being correct, demanded, "Did I tell you that you could stay late today?"

He said, "Yeah!"  I must have looked as puzzled as he felt because he said, "I told you the honor roll party was today...Dad signed the form, remember?"

Uh, yeah, now I did.  Yep, I had pulled my kid out of the party he was participating in after school to celebrate three semesters on the honor roll.  Way to go, Mom.

Other mistakes we make are long lasting and we may even think we're doing the right thing for a long time, only to find we were mistakenly doing the wrong thing.  I think certain parenting strategies fall under this category.  When I was a child, my father was fairly punitive.  I was a shy child, but certain behaviors I had frustrated him, and he used strategies that we now know to be harmful to children: shaming, belittling, spanking, and yelling were common in his repertoire.

When I became an adult and grew a voice to stand up for myself (it took a long time, too!), I was able to talk with my parents about things in my childhood that concerned me.  My mother had also grown, like most of us, continuing to learn about people and dynamics between people.  She was able to hear and understand the pain I felt about certain parts of my childhood, and to apologize for those things.  Her apology and willingness to listen to me talk about how I felt as a child helped not only heal our relationship but bring us even closer than before.

As much as my mother was able and willing to listen, my father has never been able to admit his mistakes as a parent.  Instead, he deflects, often with humor, and while he lightens the mood, there is a part of me that resents him.  Part of me still carries around the anger and humiliation and sadness of a little girl who was emotionally bullied by the man who should have protected her.

I make mistakes with my son all the time, but the other day was an in-your-face doozie.  When he told me why he was at school, I literally slapped my forehead and said...well, I won't repeat what I said, but it wasn't good.  I apologized and offered for him to go back in and I would wait.  He said no and angrily climbed into the car.  At nearly fourteen, he doesn't forgive my discretions as easily as he used to.  When we got home, I told him again, "I'm really sorry.  You deserved that party and I had other things on my mind.  I really screwed up and I'll try not to do it again."

I'd like to say we ended with a big hug and then went and watched Star Wars or something, but the reality was much less pleasant.  He muttered, "kay", then left me sitting in the car to ponder my mistake. I felt bad about it.  And I should have--I blew it.  But then I did the only thing I could do--own the mistake, and make an attempt to rectify the situation.

Children often learn by imitating the important people in their lives.  My son makes a lot of mistakes too, and sometimes he apologizes but sometimes he doesn't.  My hope is that by giving a genuine apology, he will eventually learn that apologies are a step toward correcting the problem.

People with integrity apologize.  When they make a mistake, they apologize to their friends, their colleagues, their spouses.  And their children.

And when children are treated with integrity, they grow up to practice it--with their friends, their colleagues, their spouses, and their own children.  And that's what I want for my kids.

What do you want for yours?

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