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Letting Go of Past Mistakes
Question: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a parent?
For some of us, this question brings a little pang of regret. For others, the memory of mistakes made with our children can be excruciating. Maybe there were long-term consequences of your mistake that still bring suffering to your family.
It doesn’t matter if your big mistake is missing a dance recital or getting yourself put in prison. No matter how badly you may have failed your children in the past, the purpose of this chapter is not to berate you or make you relive the experience. Chances are, you’re doing enough of that on your own. In fact, we invite you to do the opposite.
As Christian Moore says in The Resilience Breakthrough, one of the most difficult things to do in this life is to forgive yourself for the mistakes you make, especially when those mistakes affect other people. You carry them around like heavy weights, and the energy required to lift that weight day after day actually impacts your resilience. It impacts your ability to be the best parent for your children today. But one of the goals of the book and of this guide is to change that. We want you to walk away with the weights lifted, with the ability to breathe easier. We want you to move forward in your life without letting past mistakes hold you back.
With self-grace, your goal is to put failure in perspective so that when you fail, you can move on to better use your energy and time. This means completely letting go of the guilt and shame of your mistake after doing everything possible to make amends. It means letting go when you fall short, or when you fail to complete something.
The Seven Keys to Self-Grace
Self-grace is different from self-tolerance or self-forgiveness. It doesn’t have conditions. Whatever you’ve done, wherever you’re standing, your family will be more likely to thrive if you allow self-grace into your life. This becomes easier when you do seven things:
Maintain a sense of humor.
When your mistake isn’t hurting someone else, try finding the humor in the situation instead of getting angry or lashing out. The way we respond also often impacts the way others respond to our mistakes.
For example, let’s say you bombed a recent job interview. You’re understandably upset and disappointed, but is it possible to find humor when reflecting on what happened? Try re-telling the story of your “big interview bomb” to yourself through the lens of a comedian. How does that change how the story is told?
One WhyTry employee’s grandmother once made her famous homemade ice cream for an important out-of-town visitor… but accidentally used salt instead of sugar in the recipe. The visitor politely had two bowls before leaving as soon as he could, never to be seen again. This mistake has provided laughter over multiple generations and half a century and will live on for many years to come. Sometimes our mistakes, failures, and embarrassments are just that good.
Have understanding and compassion for others.
If you’re going to be forgiving of yourself, you have to strive to forgive others when they mess up as well. This can sometimes be difficult with the people we’re closest to, like our partner and children, but it’s also the most important with these individuals.
In your household, make compassion something that you practice daily so it becomes easier to forgive and be kind when big incidents come along. Perform acts of kindness, express gratitude, and talk through concerns calmly. In the evening, go through all of your interactions and ask yourself if you were compassionate in every encounter. Determine what you can learn from that day and commit to improving tomorrow.
Accept the reality of being human.
As a parent, you’re juggling a lot. Juggle anything for long enough, and eventually, you’re going to drop it. It happens. You’ll miss a game. You may forget about a school project. You could mess up at work. You’ll yell at your kids. You’ll blame your spouse for the stress you’re feeling. That’s called being human.
In the Internet age, we can easily become convinced that everyone around us is leading a perfect life, based on the version of their family they’re showcasing on Instagram, Facebook, or their crafty Mommy blog. Here’s a secret you may have already figured out: their life isn’t perfect, it’s just very well-framed in front of a smartphone camera lens.
It’s OK to strive for improvement. It’s good to recommit to a task or situation where you may have dropped the ball. But don’t forget to keep your self-worth in the process, remembering that everyone makes mistakes and that whatever just happened is part of the human condition.
Start where you’re standing and move forward.
This is similar to the concept of “flipping the switch” from earlier in this book. It’s a moment-by-moment decision to pick yourself up and start over from where you’re standing. Do you have a habit of yelling at your children? Next time it happens, take a deep breath, apologize, and move forward with your goal to be more patient. What other option do you have? Your mistake is in the past, so you could waste energy beating yourself up, or you could give yourself some grace and recommit.
Here’s another secret: those weaknesses causing you to make mistakes? They’re actually strengths in disguise.
Maybe your house is always a mess and you’ve come to see yourself as a bit of a slob. What’s the hidden strength here? Maybe it’s that you’re prone to want to play with your children when you have a free moment, instead of sweeping the floor. Maybe your open-ended attitude toward life means you’re a more creative personality type. Don’t use this reframing pattern to justify mistakes, but DO take some time to examine what you’re doing well as a result of the same personality traits causing you to make them.
Avoid comparing yourself to others. Parents have a bad habit of looking at other parents and comparing our own successes or failures against them. We find ourselves thinking things like, “I’m not as crafty as…” or “I’m not as patient as…” This kind of thinking is poison! Not to mention a giant waste of energy. Next time you’re tempted to compare yourself to the perfect-looking parent with the perfectly well-behaved children at the park, try out some of these strategies:
Be grateful. When you take time out of each day to list the things you’re grateful for, you’re less likely to wish your life or kids or personality or body or – insert your weak spot here – were more like someone else’s. Make it a habit to keep a “gratitude journal” and list some things you’re grateful for every single day.
Acknowledge your own success. You’re a great parent in more ways than you realize. When you’re tempted to see how you measure up against someone else, instead think about the ways you’re doing a really great job. There’s no one exactly like you, with your specific set of experiences and skills and gifts to offer your children. List off your parenting successes, both now and in the past, and have this list ready to pull up mentally at a moment’s notice when you need to reassure yourself.
Use the pain to change. Sometimes the temptation to compare can actually serve as a wake-up call that there’s something we need to be doing differently. But instead of wasting energy beating yourself up, invest that energy in setting positive goals for you and your family. Make a commitment to yourself that you’re going to grow a little each day, then celebrate and acknowledge the small changes that get you closer to where you want to be.
Continue to use the Four Sources of Resilience.
Part of forgiving yourself and moving forward is having the strategies that you need to continually increase your resilience. Let’s review:
Relational Resilience means that you use the support you feel from others and the dependence that others have on you as fuel to increase your resilience. Example: Some parents who have faced addiction attend drug court whole-heartedly because they want to stay clean for their children.
Street Resilience means that you use disrespect, discrimination, and mistakes –whether experienced by yourself, your children, or others – as an additional fuel source to work for better outcomes for the family. Example: You know that “Mama Bear” feeling you get when your kid has been wronged? Street Resilience means that you take that and use it in a way that doesn’t do damage, but that creates a positive change.
Resource Resilience means that you reflect on your internal resources – your character and personality traits, skills, and abilities; and your external resources, like support networks in the community, to solve problems. Example: A working parent who seeks out programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, YMCA, or community sports leagues to give the kids a positive place to go after school is accessing Resource Resilience.
Rock Bottom Resilience means that even in the direst situations, you know how to “dig down deep” and find the motivation to press forward. Example: Families who have lost their homes know what rock bottom feels like. Families who pick themselves up and work hard for the best possible scenario have Rock Bottom Resilience. Remember, though, you don’t have to be at rock bottom to use the skills of rock bottom resilience – flipping the switch, combating hopelessness, believing in your ability to change your circumstances, remembering that losing in the past doesn’t mean you’ll lose in the future, and believing in unforeseen options.
The last thing you need to know about self-grace – that you need to know about resilience – is that you’ll be fine as long as you keep flipping the switch. Pick yourself up each time you fall down. Lifelong resilience is nothing more than a series of large and small comebacks.
You’ve got this. You are more resilient than you realize. And know this too – you finished this book, which means you care deeply about your children and know how important it is to foster resilience in your family. They’re in good hands.
It’s OK to strive for improvement. But don’t forget to keep your self-worth in the process.
Discussing Self-Grace with Your Child
- Discuss with your children some of the things that they beat themselves up about.
- Ask, “If you woke up tomorrow and that worry was gone, how would your life be different?”
- Share the definition of self-grace – that it means to forgive yourself for past mistakes and move forward.
- Commit your children to think of one mistake that they can forgive themselves for and move forward in life without it.
Write a letter to yourself, forgiving yourself for a past mistake.
If you don’t get anything else from this book, I hope you can commit to pushing through when all hell breaks loose in your life. Predetermine that, come what may, you’re going to Flip the Switch, draw on the Four Sources of Resilience, and give yourself grace, and you’ll be equipped with resilience throughout your life.”Christian Moore – The Resilience Breakthrough, page 273