I worry about adults who expend enormous energy trying to parent perfectly. They seem to believe that any parental mistake will irreparably damage and scar their children.
However, that’s not how mistakes work.
In real life, we all screw up—because we're all imperfect. As protective parents, we sometimes forget that every mistake gives us a golden opportunity to learn something. Usually, the bigger the gaffe, the bigger the lesson to learn.
As Bruce Lee, martial artist and actor, said: "Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.
Let’s be clear: mistakes are no fun. They hurt. Your children may be hurt by their mistakes, and yours. However, hurt doesn't always equal harm. In fact, I’m willing to bet you learned some of life’s most important lessons in the aftermath of a major flub.
You'll see an example of my favorite principle in action during the first year of your child’s life. As your baby grows, she'll develop the urge to crawl. She'll want to get a toy (or extension cord) that's just out of her reach. But no matter how much she wants to crawl, she won’t know how to do it at first. She’ll learn to hold her back legs up and push her shoulders and head well off the ground. Meanwhile, her belly will remain anchored on the floor, and she won't be able to get going. She’ll grunt, flap, rock her head, kick, and sometimes scream in frustration. She won't be happy. But after a few days or weeks, she'll somehow figure out how to crawl.
Will her frustration hurt her? No. While it may make her angry, it will also motivate her to motor herself across the floor.
Later on, after watching you stroll around the house, she'll begin to see that walking is faster and better than crawling. So she'll learn to stand up while holding onto your hands or a piece of furniture. In the process, she'll fall down—fairly often. She’ll struggle as she learns how to get herself back upright again. She’ll bang her head on the coffee table, get a bruise, and cry inconsolably. And once she figures out how to walk (and later, run), she will repeatedly lose her balance and fall down. Sometimes, as soon as she stands up, she’ll topple over again.
Now, you could look at all this falling and head-bonking as a failure or mistake. They are! However, they are also opportunities to learn the skill—a universal example of trial and error.
Do we as fathers want our children to fall and hurt themselves? Of course not; it hurts us to see them hurt. But we understand these tenets:
• The baby will never learn to walk unless she falls down.
• Making the “mistake” of falling down hurts.
• The falling is still worth the effort.
Keep the thought of your baby learning to walk in mind during your years of fathering. Instead of instantly beating yourself up (or berating your child) over a blunder, recognize the other facets of making a mistake.
Adapted from Idiot's Guides: Pregnancy for Dads by Joe Kelly, copyright 2014 Alpha Books and used by permission.