The following is a short list off the top of my head of some personal bad decision making from my adolescence.
@ 5 years old I played “doctor” with a girl neighbor across the street engaging in a session of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”
@ 6 years old I had physical fights with my older brother and pulled my younger sister’s hair when I was being teased.
@ 7 years old I stole a quarter from my Chicago White Sox helmet piggy bank to buy candy at the corner grocery store and lied about it.
@ 8 years old I cheated on tests by looking at my neighbor’s work.
@ 9 years old I began using curse words when my parents were not around.
@ 10 years old I broke a house window accidentally and never said anything.
@ 11 years old I bullied a boy in gym class to the point where he was in tears and I did nothing to make amends.
@ 16 I drank alcohol. These occasions were certainly accompanied by many lies to my parents about where I was going and what I was doing.
@ 17 I drove a car under the influence of alcohol.
These are just a few examples that could easily be turn into hundreds with a bit more contemplation, but I’d rather not bore you with the details. Yet with all of these mistakes I still managed to become an adult that has contributed some positive influence upon my community. I might even argue that it is because of these mistakes is the reason why I manage to make some contributions.
So what’s the point? I think we have amnesia about our own childhood mistakes when parenting our own kids. As parents I think we collectively hold our children up to a much higher standard than what is realistic. The best way to learn is through failure and we rarely give our children the space to fail. When they do fail, we are surprised. We ask ourselves, “How can my child do this? Don’t they listen to me?” We then go down the path towards punishment and maybe sprinkling in some shame or disappointment in them. Does this mean there are no consequences for anything our kids do? Of course not. But can we do it with a sense of compassion and understanding knowing that we’ve also made these mistakes? The most important part of any exchange I have with my three daughters is to maintain the integrity of the relationship. That is the starting point and ending point. The ” mistake” is merely a blip on the radar.
So if I could give my fellow parents any advice is to make your own short list and next time your kid does something that doesn’t meet your unrealistic expectation of who this person is- read your list to yourself. Our kids aren’t perfect, nor should they be. In closing I call on the wisdom of Sgt. Hulka from the movie Stripes which is “Lighten up Francis.”