Dear Dr. Ray,
I worry a lot about making mistakes in raising my children. How do I know what I’m doing now won’t hurt them in some way later in life? ―Nervous
Few things can ruin the enjoyment of parenthood more surely than a fear of mistakes. Nowadays so many parents live with the daily worry that they will accidentally set in motion some emotional hang-up that will plague their youngster through childhood and maybe into adulthood. One single parent mom told me she was reluctant to discipline her strong willed son because she didn’t want him to grow up with bad feelings towards women.
It’s no surprise that parents are so skittish. They’ve been blamed for everything from Waldo’s bellyache to his dropping out of school. Somehow, some way, the finger gets pointed back at the folks. They must have miscalculated or blundered at some crucial stage along the way. Out of ignorance, inexperience, lack of sophistication or savvy, they’ve done something to create the instability or defect in Sigmund’s mental health.
What a tragedy that such a black cloud hovers over childrearing. The reality is that the very best of moms and dads will miscue so many times that they’ll lose count in their first year. Mistakes are inseparable from good parenthood. They are as integral to the process as children are. My guess is that the typical parent with the typical youngster misjudges, overreacts, and mishandles things thousands of times per childrearing career. And that’s in raising a typical youngster. If you live with a Spike, allow yourself two or three times the norm in mistakes, because this little spitfire would make Job cry uncle.
Unquestionably your parenting is powerful in shaping the person your child is and becomes. If you consistently parent poorly, she probably will develop some problems on her way to adulthood. The key words here are consistently and probably. You have to mess up not once or twice, but repeatedly to lay the base for possible future trouble. Just as it takes time and perseverance to teach good values and habits, it takes time to teach bad ones. Mistakes made by parents who love, discipline, and care for their children simply will not ruin a child for life.
Kids are emotionally durable. The good Lord knew that children were going to be raised by humans, with all of our shortcomings, inconsistencies and flaws. So he built them to withstand us, and all the trial and erroring we do on our way to better parenting. Kids are not fashioned from spun glass. They don’t have to be ever so delicately shielded from all bumps and jostles. Not at all! Kids are built tough. They can be more likened to hard rubber, with steel belts on both sides.
Whenever you worry that you may have blundered badly in handling a situation or problem, remember: that occasion is only one of thousands upon thousands of interactions you and Waldo will have together. It’s the overall picture that matters, not the periodic foul-ups that all of us parents are prone to, especially if we’re raising kids and not something easy like wolves.
There’s a bright side to making mistakes. Responsible parents learn from mistakes. If you think you make more than your share, you’ll learn more quickly. Mistakes are how good parents get better.