I was a pretty timid child. I’m not really sure how else to describe it. I was very rule-oriented, took authority figures very seriously, and feared getting in trouble. I was shy, sensitive, and attached to my mom. I tried so hard to be perfect – and not so much like perfect hair, perfect clothes, perfect student. I was just so worried about standing out in a negative way, disappointing my parents and teachers, getting laughed at by my peers, that I made myself almost invisible. I don’t know if that’s how my parents saw it (I’m sure I’ll find out – hi Mom and Dad!) but looking back, that’s how it felt.
I first began to form my identity in high school, but even then I was too wrapped up in being accepted to allow myself to look or act all that differently from my peers. Even so, I had my slip-ups. I clearly remember the first “bad grade” I got on my report card, my first speeding ticket, and the first time my Dad came charging down the basement stairs to tell me and my high school boyfriend to get our feet on the floor. College was a whole new challenge. Feeling completely inferior to my extroverted, empowered Smith sisters, I was just trying to keep up. But I had started to come out of my small-town, good-girl shell, and soon I experienced my first (thankfully minor) car accident and getting caught for the first and only party I ever had at my parents’ house.
It’s easy to laugh about it all now because even though my parents definitely sent the message that what I had done was not ok, none of it was ever a deal breaker. I don’t even remember them being all that mad. It was one red-faced, stern lecture and a big hug. “You shouldn’t have done that. We expect more from you. But – we love you and are always here for you and will help you fix this.” (I’m sure the talks didn’t actually sound like that – especially the high school boyfriend one – but you get the idea.)
This all led up perfectly to what I consider the epic failure in my life – my divorce. Even though this was an extremely painful, difficult thing to endure, I never had to question my support system. As soon as I told my parents, it was a given that I would move in with them, that I could cry endlessly all over their couch, that they would order in lots of consolation dinners. I truly feel that having the freedom to make mistakes when I was young was good for me. As many readers may know, I work in a high school, and this is something I would say that I don’t see enough these days. Many parents (not all, of course) are quick to bubble wrap their children so that they feel the least amount of pain or discomfort possible. I am so grateful that I was allowed to fail. It helped me to develop as a person and to grow the resilience I would need as an adult.
This is the lesson that, if nothing else, I really want to instill in my children. It is ok to feel uncomfortable. It is ok to make mistakes. It is even ok to fail. And I will always be here to help you pick up the pieces.
This is hard because it’s not that I want my children to fail. I don’t want them to be in pain or make bad choices or get their hearts broken. But it’s kind of inevitable, isn’t it? No matter how great or horrible of a parent I am, no matter how many vegetables I get into them or how few hours of screen time I allow, mistakes are going to happen. They are part of life. And from my perspective, even though some of my failures have been difficult and painful, they have been important and defining. My family has always been there through it all, and for that I am forever thankful.