Do you ever look back on an old thought, parenting belief, action, or passion and wonder “What was I thinking?!?!” As a Mom, blogger, and highly passionate person, I often get the joys of seeing some of my old blogs pop up on my Facebook news feed. It’s a little like slapping your own self in the face when you find you’ve either mellowed on a topic, found a better way to express your thoughts, or even changed your mind completely!
There have been so many times I’ve thought “I shouldn’t have said that” I shouldn’t have thought that” “I should be more decisive” “I should/shouldn’t….” The list is never ending, and at the end of the day I guess I just think I should be perfect. I think my children, my husband, my friends and family all deserve that from me. They deserve the best of me, and they certainly don’t deserve the challenge of dealing with what’s left of me at the end of a long and draining day. Heck, I don’t even want to be in the same room as me sometimes.
Admittedly being an imperfect human being seemed easier to tolerate before having children. Living with the consequences of my own humanity seemed acceptable, but knowing that my children have to live with it feels so unfair.
In the most recent edition of Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine, I became absolutely absorbed in the article “Our Fear of Freedom” by Theresa Graham Brett, JD. She talks about how if we want to raise children with trust and respect we must first do the same with ourselves. She discusses our self-talk: “I should stop watching this video and do some work.” “I should go exercise instead of being on Facebook.” And the list goes on. Brett explains that it is our fear of freedom that causes us to believe that we must emotionally punish ourselves lest we never become worthy. The thought of letting myself off of the hook emotionally does feel a little scary. Without the guilt stick I might just run off on the next cruise ship, drink like a sailor, party like it’s 1999, eat like every day is Thanksgiving, and abandon all of my responsibilities.
Realistically, though, I know I wouldn’t do that. In fact, as I was reading this article and challenging myself to let go, to treat myself the way I would want my children to treat themselves, to explore the parts of me that I’ve denied, and accept the parts of me that I’m not so proud of, I felt a relief. I felt instantly happier to be right where I am, doing exactly what I do.
Old habits die hard, and I grew up believing that I needed to be controlled to behave. I want my children to grow up with a different story. I want them to know they can trust themselves, that it’s okay to trip along the way, and that there are no mistakes, only chances to learn new lessons.
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine about our sons who are both diagnosed with autism and have communication challenges due to their lack of speech. She was explaining Errorless Learning to me and she said “therapists learned that children with autism are more likely to get stuck on what they did wrong and obsess over that, rather than actually learn what is right, and so they developed the Errorless Learning Technique.” Can this also apply to all of us? Most of us spend more time beating ourselves up over every imperfection than learning from the experience.
We’ve begun the Errorless Learning Technique with my son, and I LOVE it, and so does he. In other therapies a child might be presented two pictures and told “Point to the ball” and if the child then points to a picture of a sock they are told “no, point to the ball.” But with errorless learning, you put the two pictures up and say “which do you want?” If they point to the sock, they get a sock. Over time they learn that when they point to the sock, they get a sock, and when they point to the ball, they get a ball. This is a method used to teach a pre-verbal child how to request by using pictures.
I have found that learning and growing is impossible if you “already know everything.” Lucky for me, I don’t! I have learned that knowing what’s best doesn’t always mean that I know how to do it. I am also learning that you can evolve without shame. One day, my son won’t need to use pictures to communicate, and it would be silly for him to continue to carry them around because they once served him. Evolving means letting go of the thoughts and behaviors that no longer serve us, without looking down on them.
Sometimes I think as parents we can really come down on ourselves. We have the perfect picture of how we “should” be and what we “shouldn’t” do. We see no reason to miss the mark. But maybe we’re not being fair like asking someone with asthma “Why don’t you just breathe? There’s plenty of air!” We give ourselves the third degree for being human and it’s a perfect way to take all the joy out of our lives.
So let’s all try some errorless learning techniques on ourselves. As the weight lifts and we grant ourselves the freedom to learn and grow our children will organically do the same. If I end up on that cruise ship gorging on cheese whiz then I’ll reassess, but for now I’m rewriting my internal dialogue. I’m weeding out the “shoulds and shouldn’ts” and replacing them with non-judgment and gratitude.
I was practicing this new dialogue on a walk downtown to pick up some cookies for my boys at a local bakery. I thought, “I shouldn’t have bought the boys cookies. I should have looked for a healthier alternative.” I immediately stopped myself. I replaced it with “I’m so grateful for this opportunity to share these cookies with my boys.” Ah, relief, and I walked on with a smile. A woman walking by me said “I’m sorry, but I just have to say you look like a Summer breeze.” Well, I felt like one too. If my boys are going to get a cookie on a sunny afternoon, I’d rather they get it from a Summer breeze than a guilt-ridden mom.