Messing up isn’t an option. It’s a given. Bear with me in this blog, as I shift back and forth between children and us, meaning adults, because the inner child and the adult are intertwined. I saw this video from the Attachment Nerd (therapist) on Facebook discussing one reason why we should not use punishment (“pain, fear, and shame”) as a motivational reason to change behavior in our children. She points out that if this is how their brains react when someone asks them to change their behavior, it’s going to make their lives very difficult when they grow up, in situations like a marriage or a job. Many of us will grow up to be defensive, and unwilling to learn, change, and grow. I have experienced the truth in this first hand in myself and witnessed it in countless people that I know. Making mistakes and learning from them is a part of the learning experience we call life. Letting go of what we think we know, letting go of the fear of the unknown, and being open to learning and developing as individuals is vital.
No one wants to be stuck in negative behavior patterns, but it’s far too easy to if we are defensive of our destructive or undesirable behavior because we are too afraid and ashamed to admit that we are human and thus are not perfect. This fear and shame is something that is hard to change because it is ingrained in a lot of us from childhood. For those of us raised in a typical modern day church, this is two-fold because not only were we afraid and ashamed to fail in front of our parents, but we were afraid of God being disappointed, upset with us, and if we were really bad, sending us to suffer an eternity in flaming torture because of our failures. The trauma is real people.
We are left re-parenting ourselves and talking ourselves down from this mindset. Failure is okay. Making mistakes is okay. Letting the people we love down is okay. Seriously, it is. Read that again. Failure is okay. Making mistakes is okay. Letting the people we love down is okay. It’s an unavoidable part of life. We have to trust in an inner knowing that despite not being perfect, we are loved. We are loved by the creator of the universe. More than likely, we also have family members and friends that still love us despite our imperfections (if not, find yourself some new ones.) Most importantly, we can rest in knowing that our Heavenly Father loves us regardless of any mistakes we make. “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)
In committed, healthy, and loving relationships, we are going to keep messing up. I keep on disappointing Erik in various ways. Usually, my bluntness (rudeness in his opinion) is the problem. I tend to not mince words and don’t think about people’s feelings when I say what I have to say. Despite now having an awareness that I need to be more sensitive, I am not always very sensitive to his feelings even though I am actively trying to be. I keep on letting him down in this way. At first, I blamed him. “He was being too sensitive.” “He couldn’t handle any form of correction.” Then it hit me, I was judging him for doing the very thing I was doing in that moment. Not getting past my pride and defensiveness and admitting and being capable of recognizing my own mistakes. To flourishingly function in this world, it is essential to be able to own your own crap. It’s okay that I’m not perfect. It’s okay that I let Erik down sometimes. It’s NOT okay for me to be so defensive and prideful that I can’t admit when I am wrong and try to do better. Mistakes are inevitable. The repair is what matters.
I don’t want Eli to have to figure this stuff out the hard way. I want to equip him with the ability to do this now as a small child. Making children feel ashamed and afraid of their mistakes is not the way we help our kids thrive in future relationships or in their careers. I'm not at all saying we should let our kids get away with hurting people or being destructive, but what I am saying is that there is a better way to teach and guide them than the way most of us were taught. This generation of parents has the opportunity to instill something different. Failure begets growth. Let’s model for our kids how to show love, patience, and understanding when we mess up and when they mess up, so they can mirror that for themselves and not be too afraid or ashamed to grow and learn when they are adults. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)