Last year I became present to this thing my daughter does when she makes a mistake. She would look up at me, her facial expression shifting, and she would immediately express how sorry she was. She had been doing it for a while, and over time, I really started to clue in on what seemed to be happening. Initially I just read her response to be overly dramatic and exaggerated. In time, I realized that her response actually seemed a bit sad. Her apologies were always so genuine, which broke my heart, because her mistakes were really quite innocent. And when I got honest with myself all signs pointed in one direction: me, and my reaction to her doing things 'wrong'.
She dropped something, I sighed. She messed something up, I corrected it. She forgot something, I lectured. Not always, but enough. It always happened so fast in the moment. I lacked enough presence to catch myself and actually consider whether the sigh of irritation was even worth it.
(In case you are wondering, it's not.)
When I sat with this realization, it became very clear to me that this is how a perfectionist is born.
Cue the great parenting shame spiral...
But see, that's where it all begins in the first place. My parenting shame spirals are evidence of my own perfectionism and struggle to find grace for myself. Every time I beat myself up, I indirectly tell her that it is ok for her to do the same. I cannot want for her, what I don't practice for myself. And I am downright awful at being gentle with myself, so how in the world can I expect for her to be?
But I am learning.
I decided that I needed to shake things up so that I could catch myself before we both started falling into this typical pattern. One night after dinner, I carved out some special one-on-one time for the two of us. I invited a conversation about things that I noticed and loved about her. I started with some of my most favorite things: her dimples, the way she looks out for her brother, her kind and loving heart, her love of learning, and that she does the monkey bars better than any boy does in her class. Then I did something I wouldn't normally do. I invited her to share things she noticed and loved about me. Which was so hard for me to ask, and yet so easy for her to share: the good food that I make, that I take good care of her, how good I am at Simon Says.
I continued and told her that I noticed that sometimes when she makes a mistake, she seems to be hard on herself. She listened, intently. I explained that there is nothing wrong with a mistake, that we all make them. I told her that I had also noticed something about myself. I noticed that when she makes mistakes, sometimes I'm hard on her and I don't act like it's ok to make them. I told her that this is something I was going to be more aware of and I invited her to practice something new with me.
I told her that from now on, when she makes a mistake, something as simple as forgetting to turn the light off after she's been asked, or spilling her milk at the dinner table, or putting holes in her jeans, she would simply say 'whoopsie' and move on. And in turn, I committed to creating a safe space to allow these mistakes to happen. I added that if we both can be sure of something, it's that these things WILL happen. Often. They are a part of the plan. They are necessary and crucial to her development, and mine.
If I can be sure of something else, it's that she and I were deeply connected in that moment. It's a moment I will remember forever. She felt me. And I felt her. We both held space for one another's humanity.
That night, I wrote her a letter and I tucked it into her baby book. I realized the letter wasn't just for her but it was also for the little girl inside of me that needs to be reminded of this same message.
Do you have any idea how incredible you are? You are such a gift. This life is so beautiful because you are in it.
You may not understand this now, but I'm going to tell you anyway. Being a mama is hard. It's like taking a magnifying lens to every insecurity you have and dissecting it up close. It's being reminded daily why the choices you make aren't always good ones.
Tonight we shared such a simple and beautiful moment together. We talked about mistakes and how neither of us really like to make them. We both agreed to work on trying something new and mommy knows she has to lead the way on this one.
I want you to know that celebrations aren't just reserved for all the things you do 'right' and 'good' in your life. The most courageous experiences come from learning to embrace our greatest mistakes. Wisdom is knowing and believing that our mistakes are actually our greatest gifts. They don't always feel good in the moment, but if you can find the faith to believe that they are purposeful, you will end up on the other side of them with a feeling of victory beyond your wildest dreams.
I want you to know that being a whole person means owning all parts of yourself - the parts you like and allow the world to see, and the parts that make you feel shameful. Cutting ourselves off from the darkness doesn't make it go away. In fact, it only magnifies it and makes it even more intolerable to face. The more we shine light on our shadows, the clearer we become that these shortcomings make us who we are. I can assure you that this one won't always be easy. But know that you are not alone.
I want you to know that the path to peace means giving up the idea that there is something wrong. You are not broken. You are complete just as you are. It doesn't mean you will always feel that way. Our mind plays incredible tricks on us. The journey of life is designed for us to forget this. And then to remember it. And then forget again. And then remember. Over, and over, and over again.
When you live a life of light, you illuminate the path for other people who may be afraid to embrace their own shadows. Remember this sweetheart, because you are a lighthouse. It's in you. I see it already. Tonight it was you that reminded me of the kind of compassion, love, and patience I'm working to give myself.
May we walk forward fearlessly and unafraid. Together. When we fall down, may we take the time we need to nurse our wounds, and then stand back up and keep going. The world needs us.
I love you to infinity,