“We all make mistakes sometimes / We all fail but we stand tonight / Look past, learn, and move on / We’re all here, you’re not the only one.” Lyrics from the song “Audrey, Start the Revolution!” by, the now disbanded alternative rock band, Anberlin. I started listening to Anberlin and heard this song for the first time during my early college days. These particular lyrics encapsulated something that I always found comforting (and still do)– someone, somewhere, has gone through or currently is going through the same thing as me; someone, somewhere goofed up, embarrassed themselves, and/or all out screwed up or made a mistake just like me. Hearing these lyrics, especially during my college days, reminded me that I wasn’t alone in my goof ups and “failures” (heaven knows I had many during that time).
Somewhere along the line I came across the thought and tip about learning from your mistakes. Yes, it seems quite simple but that idea hadn’t really crossed my mind. I think it was Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” that really brought this idea home (Though I confess, I never fully read the book; I was in a group that was “working” through this book and I just used the cliff notes. Sorry, Mr. Warren. Sorry, book group). So right or wrong I’ll give Rick Warren credit. The (paraphrased) idea was that “I’m going through this hard time, failure, mistake I made, etc. Yes, there’s pain, embarrassment, etc. BUT what can I learn from it all?” That idea is something that I do my best to hold on to when I screw up, make a mistake, or go through a hard time. Notice I said “I do my best” – no mention that I always succeed in holding that ideal. More times than I care to mention I don’t hold to that idea when I’m in the midst of dealing with a mess up (this idea usually goes out the door and I usually end up owing money to the swear jar)… and it’s only long after I had dealt with it – I finally reflect on what I learned. Now that I got a son that watches everything I do (and say) – I am doing my best to double my efforts.
Before I became a dad and about 2 years into it, I had a brief stint (3+ years) as an instructor/educator (which I never pictured myself; probably explains the “brief stint”) for a post-secondary institution (associate degree level) that focused on people with disabilities. On the first day of any/all my classes after I went over the syllabi, expectations of my class, etc. I would always tell my students my thoughts on mistakes and failures (and I reinforced it regularly throughout the term). I had tried to boil these thoughts on mistakes all down to this simple, unique motto (that I wouldn’t have to pay royalties or now, back royalties to Rick Warren for): “The only true failure, the only true mistake is the one you don’t learn anything from.” The example I used for my students was that if they get an F or a grade they didn’t like on a test or project, they would/could still learn from that F. What they would learn from that “failure” would be about what they needed to study, how they should study, how long they should study, or about asking more questions
I have a two (soon-to-be-three) year old son. I want to pass this idea on to him. I want him to live his life and WANT to attempt things that, maybe, others would view as weird or out of the norm or risky. I want him to be adventurous. I want him to know that failures and mistakes are a part of life. Now obviously, that mindset has different types of consequences for toddlers than it does an adult. As a toddler, mistakes and failures equate to tumbles, boo-boos, crying, embarrassment and frustration.
So how do I teach this idea to a toddler? It’s being honest – showing him I goof up too (being transparent) and that I want him to know it. How do I show my 2 year old son I goof-up in a way he’d understand? I do, what my son and I have come to call, an “instant replay.” It’s pretty simple. The way this works, for example, is while playing around in the yard my son takes a tumble. While his tears pour down and the crying is at an ear-piercing level, I (or my wife OR both of us) check him out to be sure he’s not seriously injured, give a hug and a kiss, THEN I ask my son if he wants me to do an “instant replay.” Though he has the snotty nose, red, wet eyes, and is still worked up he’ll give a smile maybe a slight giggle and say “yeah.” The “instant replay” is just me doing the same thing over again (with much exaggeration) that he did and taking the same tumble, trip, etc. This causes him to laugh and, in turn, me to laugh as well. Some might say that all I’m doing is distracting him. Sure! I say that’s ok, he’s a toddler, I want to distract him but my goal is showing him that dad did/does the same thing too. Dad looked funny and you know what? We’re both OK, we’re both laughing, perhaps there’s even a cool boo-boo he can show off to everyone!
Now it’s obvious that this doesn’t work 100% of the time especially when my son is tired or hungry. What’s even more obvious is that when he gets older the “instant replay” will not work like it did. As those tumbles in the yard turn into more heartbreaking mistakes and failures in school, with the opposite sex, with work/career, and raising a family. The “Instant Replay” will probably take the form being honest (transparent) about those same issues when he’s dealing. The instant replay will mean being honest, being open, and sharing that I crossed similar bridges-letting him know that I’ve messed up too (maybe even worse), made the same mistakes, but, most importantly, I learned from it all. Maybe his mistakes will be totally different but I want to pass on to him that we must learn from those mistakes. I believe wholeheartedly that this doesn’t show your child (or anyone that you’re sharing your experiences with) that you’re weak. It demonstrates that you’re strong, confident, and secure to admit your failings and that you learned something from them.
I want my son (and any future children I may have) to know that I made mistakes (and will continue to make them), I failed many times up to the present moment, but we have to stand back up, we look past the negative side effects (which DOES NOT mean ignoring the consequences of choices or shirking responsibility BUT it also entails asking for forgiveness and righting our wrongs), we learn, we move on. I want my kids to know and remember that they’re not the only ones who make mistakes, everyone on this planet has made a mistake, and, knowing that, they know they’re not alone.
Will the “instant replay” take the same shape as you doing a goofy tumble to get your kid to “laugh it off” and work the same way as it does in my household? Maybe not. Probably not! That’s not the point. The point is to let your child/children know that “We all make mistakes sometimes / We all fail but we stand tonight / Look past, learn, and move on / We’re all here, you’re not the only one.”