From the moment that parents find out that they’re expecting, the hopes and dreams for the perfect childhood commence. Even when expecting parents don’t know exactly what their child is going to look like yet, they have visions of their child experiencing a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. They dream about how well-behaved their child will be (i.e. My child with NEVER act like that!) and what a great student or athlete (or both!) their bundle of joy will become. During all of these hopes, wishes and dreams for their still unborn child, it’s rare for parents to hope that their child will fail in life, or will make a mistake that devastates that child to her core. No, parents don’t dream about this at all. Actually, they dread it, fear it, and quite possibly lie awake at night worrying about what they can do to stop it!
But, if parents want their kids to reach that happy, healthy, fulfilling life that they’ve dreamed of, they should really be hoping for some failures and mistakes along the way. Making a mistake, regardless of how painful it is, is the absolute best way to learn how to have a successful, fulfilling life.
When you think back to your own childhood, do you remember all of the words of wisdom that your parents shared with you? Do you think about the rules that your parents had for you and the lectures that you received about why you should listen to them? Or, do you more easily remember the lesson you learned that night (that your parents still don’t know about) when you made a mistake and almost died, got arrested or cost your parents a lot of money? Chances are strong that the latter sticks with you a lot more than all of the information that your parents tried to share with you to prepare you for life as a responsible child, adolescent and adult.
Those of you who know me know that I’m pretty boring and I don’t have many of those stories about almost dying or getting into legal trouble. I guess I didn’t need to make as many mistakes as others because of that goody-two-shoes nature about me. But, there is a lesson that I learned in my younger years that still sticks with me any time that I’m faced with that same situation.
During my senior year in high school, I was too old to play softball with the team of friends I had played with for years. My coach knew how much I wanted to still be a part of the team, so she granted me the responsibility to coach third base. As I was coaching third base, my teammate overran the base on a close play at third. I instantly reacted by pushing my teammate so that she would quickly get back on the base. I was so worried that she was going to get out, that I didn’t even think about the fact that maybe I’m not allowed to touch her! As I write this, I can still see the look on that umpire’s face as he pointed at me, shook his head, and called the runner out on third.
My heart sunk and my face had to have turned the brightest red it ever had been. I felt hot and embarrassed and like a total failure who had just let my team down. I can’t remember exactly what my coach said to me, but it was something like, “Well. Now you know that rule.” She wasn’t mean or preachy. She didn’t tell me that I had made a mistake, because she could tell that I already knew it and that I had given myself more of a punishment than anyone else could have.
To this day, that experience sticks with me. Any time that I step out onto the field to coach a base, I remind myself “Don’t touch the runner…don’t touch the runner…don’t touch the runner!” But, would I remember this rule if my coach had simply told me the rule before I coached that day? I may have remembered her words that day, and could have avoided the embarrassment and sense of failure that day. But those words wouldn’t have stuck with me to this day and the truth is that at some point, I probably would have made that mistake again. I had to make the mistake to truly learn the lesson. And once it was learned, it was never forgotten!
Parents do everything they can to warn, prepare and encourage their children to make the best decisions, the right decisions. However, a parent’s warnings and advice—while very important in shaping who the child becomes—only go so far. A mother’s warning not to play ball in the house may simply be a silly rule to the kids, something that gets in their way of having fun. The rule in itself doesn’t teach the kids right from wrong, or the consequences that may come from breaking this rule. However, the lesson learned when the ball flies through the front window and consequently takes money out of their piggy banks becomes a life lesson that is incredibly easy for them to remember in the future.
So what does this means for parents? Dream big and hope for the best, but prepare yourselves for the day when your child has to fail, because he will (and he should). And, instead of saying something like, “I told you so!” (because you probably already did tell him so) try responding like my coach did and say, “Well, now you know!” Even though you have to watch your child witness the pain that comes from that failure and mistake, take comfort in knowing that your child just learned a lesson that will last him a lifetime!