By Cathy Spooner
I had a conversation with my son and told him I’d been suspended from high school. He was shocked…at first, even I was, I couldn’t believe the words came out.
As parents we often think we need to be the perfect image in front of our children. We don’t want them to see mistakes and errors in judgement in the hope they won’t make the same mistakes we did.
But they will. In fact, they will make many mistakes. Some will shock us and some we will relate to. Regardless, their mistakes are coming whether or not we portray ourselves as the perfect parent who did everything right.
The conversation with my son felt quite natural, it felt like me telling a story to a friend. But I didn’t realise how healing this process was for both of us. He seemed amazed that “I was one of those kids” that got suspended from school. He almost couldn’t compute the Mum he knows to this story. Yet, that there is part of the magic of this encounter, he was already beginning to see me as an individual that is separate to Mum. A woman who had loved through this. A child that had big stories and challenges.
We talked about the reasons why it happened and it all stemmed from me trying so hard to fit it. That teenager in me who always felt inside like she was different, never felt like she was understood and often felt alone. Don’t get me wrong I had friends around me, but inside, I just felt like I was so different to everyone else. Just like my son.
He needed to hear this story so he could relate all of his big and scary feelings to a person he knows and trusts. He needed to hear about the why I did it and how I felt afterwards. He needed to hear me say “You will make mistakes. You can’t avoid that. But making mistakes is a part of life. It’s what we do after we make a mistake that matters”.
In that moment I gave him permission to feel lost and overwhelmed at times with the social challenges of childhood. I gave him permission to let go of being perfect and just try to be himself. It gave him permission to accept all the worries he was having about school, friendships and feeling pressured to fit in.
It let him see me in a new light, a more human light perhaps and I know we created a new link of trust between us. Not only that, but I’m sure we took one step in rewriting the stories I carry about my childhood, and how my parents did their best with the tool kit they had, to support a sensitive little girl.
I’ve reflected a lot on that conversation since we had it. I could have easily thought I’d made a mistake. The fear could have set it in, worrying about all the experiences and mistakes he will make and that I just encouraged him to have free reign. I could have taken that thought process and let it terrorise me. Instead, I paused and wrote down why truthful connection over perfection is more important.
Seeing someone else’s truth makes us feel more at home. Sharing the realness of our feelings and life gives comfort and validity to others. Life can feel like it’s happening to us, we can feel lost and unable to relate, but seeing someone else’s story helps us realise we’re all going through the same thing in different, or perhaps similar, ways.
In a world that strives for perfect, be imperfect. Our children are growing up in a time where seeing ‘perfect’ people and lives around them is everywhere. Image over truth seems to be a theme and our kids are in the middle of it.
We don’t want our kids caught up in the striving for perfection, the hustle and the low self–worth all for an unrealistic goal.
Honest conversations build strength in relationships. Honest conversations aren’t always easy, whether it’s with our children or any relationship in our life, but they are effective. Two humans coming together and sharing the truth of how they feel in an open way and telling stories brings us closer to each other.
Modelling the values we hope they uphold. As a parent we all want our kids to grow up healthy, happy and to be a good human. Modelling behaviours is the most successful way to create new behaviours and beliefs within our children. Actions speak louder than words.
We can’t protect our children from their mistakes and the pain and consequences that come from that, but we can allow them to make the mistakes. Allow them to work out what to do when the sting of regret and guilt comes in. Help them to understand what pain feels like and to allow it to be there, as opposed to shutting it down. Show them that being human and growing up is challenging for all of us in some way, at different stages.
Having this story telling that is focused on truth and not perfection builds bonds. They don’t need to see us perfect, they need to see us being as human as possible so the can find themselves in that. The hope is that one day when they do make a mistake, they know they can come to you for advice and a shoulder to cry on.
In the end, being there for them will always matter more than the mistake.
Cathy Spooner is a Certified Life Coach, Author and Counselling in training. Cathy offers individual and group work and online courses supporting women, motherhood and mental health. Cathy lives on the Central Coast with her husband and three children. www.cathyspooner.com.au Instagram: @cathyspooner_