At the beginning of my First Grade year, I got into trouble.
I was talking too much (imagine that?), and the teacher made me stand with my face in the corner. I had never gotten in trouble in school and was ashamed. Something about standing in the corner just makes you feel awful. I was afraid to tell my parents because I didn’t want them to be disappointed in me, and I didn’t want them to punish me further.
A few days later and during that same week, I got into trouble for talking again (ugh) and had to stand in the corner. I was just horrified. It happened not once, but twice.
On Saturday of that week, my mother was washing my hair. We had this tradition where I would lay on the kitchen counter, and she washed my hair in the sink. I confessed to her that I had gotten into trouble and had to stand and face the corner twice. I burst into tears and wept as she washed my hair.
I can vividly remember my tears flowing into the sink with the water from the faucet.
My mother was wonderful. She told me that it was okay. She assured me that she would not punish me further, as the school had already done so. She asked me if I understood what I had done wrong, and if I knew what to do differently. (Of course, she has no recollection of any of this. We may not always know when we are helping our children in a profound way.)
It was a pivotal point for me. I learned by that encounter that I could trust my Mom when I was disappointed, embarrassed or had to tell her about a mistake that I made. Had my Mom reacted with anger, more punishment or shaming, I would have had a different feeling about myself and would have been more careful about what I told my Mom going forward.
Remembering that significant lesson led me to share with my children stories of my mistakes when I was growing up and what I learned.
My first experience with sharing that kind of story came when each of my daughters started kindergarten. I sat down with each and told them about having to stand in the corner, and how awful it was. I told them how I hid it from my mom, held in my shame for several days, and then confessed to her over the shampoo in the sink. I told each of my girls that they were going to make some mistakes in school, and that they might get a low-grade or do something wrong. But I told them that when they did, I always wanted them to know that they could tell me, no matter what.
And sure enough, when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, she came through the door after school and said, “Mom, do you remember that story you told me about when you were in 1st grade and had to stand in the corner???”
Then she told me about how she had gotten in trouble and she was upset. She knew that I would understand.
And again, when my younger daughter was in kindergarten, she got into the car after school and started with, “Mom, do you remember when you had to stand in the corner in 1st grade?” I knew what was coming next.
When both my daughters used my story as a way of introducing their own mistake to me and knowing I would understand, I quickly realized that sharing our experiences and mistakes with our children really impacts them. They realize we are human, and they get it that we can understand what they are going through.
Since that time, I have shared with them other stories of mistakes I made (my famous rock-throwing story when I was in 1st grade too), and what I learned, as they go through different stages of their lives.
It is always interesting to see my children learn from my mistakes and apply it to their own life, and often, they will choose to make a better decision than I did.
Of course, they’ve seen me make lots of mistakes through the years. And I’ve tried to let my children see how I learn from my mistakes, so I can model that for them too.
We think our children will only want to learn from us if we are perfect, but often, our children can hear us better when we talk about our own mistakes. So, don’t be afraid. Tell your kids about that dumb thing you did in 4th grade and the consequences, or share with them something scary that happened to you in high school that you overcame. Talk to them about the mistakes you made in dating. Teach them by your example and your mistakes.
It will be such a relief to your children to know that you are not perfect, and they don’t have to be either.