Learning from Mistakes: Quick Lessons We Can Learn Alongside Our Kids
I pulled up my daughter’s grades online and quickly scanned the report. A few A’s, a few B’s, and one C, due to a missing spelling test in February.
I tensed up. My anxiety level spiked. And I called my daughter into the living room to ask her why she had a missing grade in Language Arts.
In her mind, it wasn’t a big deal. The teacher probably didn’t have the grade entered yet. All the missing work had been turned in. No worries, Mom!
But I had a feeling that told me otherwise…….So despite her assurances, I fired off an email to the teacher to get clarification.
The teacher’s response came back shortly.
Yes, all of the grades had been entered. No, my daughter had not made up the missing spelling test. And as a result, the C grade for the trimester was final. Sorry, Charlie.
Anger and frustration knotted my stomach. This C would keep her off of the Honor Roll for the trimester.
But as I sat with those feelings, I had to ask myself:
“Why was I so upset by my daughter making a C? She’s in 5th grade, and this is not going to impact her future. So what was the big deal, really?”
Was I becoming one of those parents that I swore I wouldn’t become? A parent who ranted and raved about things like grades, messes, and mistakes?
It took everything I had to hold back a parental rant.
I don’t want to parent in that way. But then, why is it so hard not to?
The fact is, I do want her to achieve great grades. I want her to stay on top of responsibilities, pick up her room every day and do everything I ask of her when I ask it.
But at the same time, I also just want her to do her best. And the truth is, her best won’t always be perfect.
Her best won’t always be perfect, because she’s human.
We’re all human. And so sometimes, even our best will fall short of perfection.
That’s what it means to be human: being imperfect.
I think for a lot of parents, it’s normal to want to rant about grades that could be better. Or mistakes and missteps.
We tend to come down on anything less than (nearly) perfect.
But ranting isn’t the answer.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember, but these are little, inexperienced humans we’re dealing with.
They are still figuring it out. And they’ll be “figuring things out” for a really long time.
Our kids aren’t perfect and neither are we.
How can we rant at them for falling short when we so often fall short ourselves?
Once I was able to look at it from this angle, that’s when I was able to get real and find meaning in the situation, instead of just getting mad and upset.
It reminded me of some good rules for life. Not just for her, but for me as well.
Sometimes, We Drop the Ball
That’s just life.
Bottom line: It was my daughter’s responsibility to go to the teacher and make up the test.
Her teacher had reviewed her missing work with her. She had reminded the class that they had a deadline.
Plain and simple: My daughter missed her deadline.
Yep, we are responsible for our own work. And sometimes, we don’t get the work done.
I can remember countless times I’ve dropped the ball.
Turning in late work. Forgetting my homework at home. Missing a big play in a game.
Once, in college, I even missed my first day of a new job! It was a job I was excited about. I just flat out FORGOT it was my first day, and I was a no-show!
Sometimes, we drop the ball. And so sometimes, we just need to give ourselves grace.
So when you drop YOUR ball, just remember it’s going to be okay. You can rebound. You can correct things. You can do better next time.
It’s okay to drop the ball once in a while.
Our Reactions Are Important
Even though I was upset, I was intentional about my reaction when I spoke with her about missing her deadline for the make-up work.
I managed my tone and facial expressions. I asked questions and I didn’t speak down to her.
I didn’t want her to feel shame. I wanted her to see the lesson.
While having a positively framed conversation with her, I realized that how I react teaches her how to react.
As a child and teenager, I can recall situations in which some reactions to my mistakes were quite explosive.
Those reactions instilled in me the same behavior. I have a tendency to react with strong emotions.
But I am working to change that behavior pattern. And by mindfully and intentionally choosing to react in a calming way, I am teaching her a new way as well.
Our reactions to problems teach our children how to handle problems.
Do I want to teach her to be reactive and emotional when things go awry?
Or do I want to show her how to assess a situation, learn a lesson from it, and do better the next time?
When things don’t go the way we want them to, we have a choice in how we respond.
Even when we can’t fix things or change outcomes, we can know that we will be okay and we can react accordingly.
We don’t have to get our feathers all bunched up and react badly.
We Can Learn to Sit with Discomfort
After our talk, the realization that she would not be getting an award at the school assembly began to sink in for her.
She’s always received an honor roll award. So not getting one this time….this is new for her. And I could see she was very upset.
“Can I skip the school assembly?” She asked. “Can’t you just take me after the assembly is over?” she pleaded with a quivering lip.
No can do, baby. Sorry.
That may be the hardest part of the lesson:
You don’t get to skip out on the yucky parts because it feels uncomfortable. Otherwise, where is the lesson in all of it?
It sounds insignificant. Sitting through an awards assembly and not getting an award doesn’t sound like such a horrible thing.
But in her eleven-year-old mind, it is a big deal. And I think she needs to sit in that discomfort during the assembly.
We can learn to not run away from challenges, rejection, or pain.
We can learn to work through that discomfort.
When we learn to sit with our discomfort, we can really think about how we feel about it. We can process it. And then we can figure out how and why we need to do things differently the next time we get the chance.
My hope is that she will feel the discomfort and let it teach her a lesson. If she wants the grades bad enough, she’ll make sure she follows through in the future.
Maybe she will. Maybe she won’t. Either way, it’s my job as a parent to let her learn how to process this experience.
That’s where we learn, right?
Learning is a Life-Long Process
I guess that’s the one thing I keep coming back to as I parent this beautiful little soul. Making mistakes is one of the biggest opportunities for growth and learning. She’s learning. I’m learning too.
When we drop the ball, when things don’t go the way we want them to, even when life gets downright crappy, all we can do is learn from our experiences. Those experiences are our greatest teachers.