It’s pretty common for parents to maintain “I want X to be better for my kid than it was for me” as a goal. I think this has less to do with wanting to one-up our own parents, and more of a general sense of progress and success in raising our children. “I want to put them in better schools than I went to,” “I’ll always make a point to encourage exploring their passions through hobbies,” etc.
The flip side of this is nobody wants their children to struggle with the same things we did (or still do). My poison in this case is perfectionism. Yes, I know. The guy that can never even get this blog written in a timely, consistent fashion has a problem with letting things go. Ironic, huh?
The truth is, I spent the better part of 30 years in abject fear of screwing up. We’re talking about sleepless nights AS A FOURTH GRADER because I was sure I would be getting a B on my report card in math, and not an A. This type of thing starts early, runs deep and dies hard. I can still remember feeling somewhat of a catharsis when I failed a 200 level Japanese class in college and the world didn’t end*. The feeling of dread around even simple mistakes dogged me even as a professional, and finally got ironed out with the help of a really good therapist and a LOT of time on the couch.
So it really hit home for me when I had to remind Red to share with Blue Steel recently, and got the saddest delayed reaction ever. Everything was fine for a minute, then she burst into tears and whimpered “I did something wrong” in my ear. It broke my heart. Not long after, Red was looking for a flashlight that she had left at school as part of a project. When I reminded her, she again broke down and said “I’m always doing bad things!” Yeesh. She’s actually a really great kid, and I’m sure a ton of parents would trade places with our behavioral issues.
Not wanting Red to slip into the same groove as Young Me, I’ve made it my mission to now POINT OUT all my mistakes to her, large and small. Which is an exercise in humility for someone that grew up trying to sweep under the rug or hide from every. single. screwup. Spilled something on the floor? Better call Red in to get a better look before I clean it up. Forgot something at home? Make sure to explain to Red that I did something silly and that’s why we need to pop in to Duane Reade and buy more wipes. I think all my blunder-spotting may be catching on, because the other day she flipped over an entire, full cereal box. Before I could even start to clean it up, she explained to me, “sometimes people make mistakes, and it’s ok.”
Ultimately, I want her to understand that everyone makes mistakes. It’s ok. And her mommy and I will always love her, no matter what. At three years old, Red has a curiosity that could serve her well for the rest of her life. I would hate for a creeping fear of failure to ever prevent her from trying new things, or going down the road less traveled. Every night I tuck Red in, and cover her with a Dora the Explorer the blanket. It reads “Explorers Wanted!” I really, really hope she never stops exploring.
*I’m fairly certain that colleges keep courses like this in the catalog for exactly this purpose. Taking a punishing class like this, failing it, and living through it taught me way more than anything else I encountered my sophomore year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rich Gallagher writes for We’re Gonna Need More Bathrooms, a blog site exploring the intersection of fatherhood and nerdery in 2012. Rich Gallagher, an NYC-based PR guy with experience in sports, video games, tech and beverage alcohol brands. You may remember Rich from The Liquid Architecture blog, where he wrote about video games from 2007-2010. This first appeared on We’re Gonna Need More Bathrooms.