I was wrong

Tue, 04/22/2008 - 3:26pm
By: The Citizen

By Greg Moffatt
Special to The Citizen

One afternoon several years ago, my daughter noticed something at home that my wife had done which my daughter knew was an irritation to me. More than once she had heard me fuss about it. She made a sarcastic comment about the issue and then looked at me for approval. Sadly, she thought that a way to win my favor was to be critical “like Dad.” My response to her was this: "Sweetheart, do you know who you sound like? You sound like daddy when he is being unkind to mommy."

Her expression changed as she realized that the comment was not appropriate. And perhaps equally important, she recognized that I was willing to criticize myself when I realized I was wrong.

As parents, my wife and I will be the most important teachers that our children will ever have. Occasionally pointing out our fallibilities is a powerful teaching tool. In fact, a number of things are accomplished by acknowledging some of your shortcomings to your children.

First of all, my conversation with my daughter demonstrated to her that it is O.K. to make mistakes. I am not perfect. Anyone who knows me could tell you that and adults recognize that everyone makes mistakes. But because of their egocentric worldview, children can easily believe that they are the only ones who err. Their lives are overrun by people correcting them – teachers, coaches, parents. It is easy for children to get the idea that when they grow up they won’t make any mistakes.

Being an adult involves learning how to cope with life by recognizing and correcting your mistakes – not in living an error free life. Children need to learn that the blessing of a mistake is to learn from it, fix what you can, and try not to make that particular one again. Acknowledging your mistakes in front of them helps them to see that.

Second, acknowledgment of your fallibility demonstrates for your children how to handle mistakes. Erring is a normal part of living and it is vital that children see how grown-ups handle goof-ups. My self-chastisement demonstrated that even though I don't have a parent telling me what to do, I am still accountable for my behavior.

Having no direct supervision does not allow me to do whatever I please and I am responsible to seek forgiveness from my wife when I am mistaken. Considering another person's feelings matters even if there is no one there to tell you what to do.

Third, acknowledging your mistakes teaches children how to say, "I'm sorry." These words are some of the most powerful words people can use. Marriages and other relationships can be strengthened by sincere acknowledgment of responsibility. I’ve used these words with my children more than once. I lost my temper one day with my daughter and I yelled at her. She was punished for what she had done, but my thoughtless tone hurt her feelings.

I went to her room and found her crying. I explained to her that what she did was wrong and that it was my job as a parent to correct her. The punishment was appropriate. However, I told her I was sorry for yelling and I should not have lost my temper. My mistake was to loose my temper. (She looked at me and said, "That's ok, daddy. I still love you.") The words "I'm sorry" demonstrate our weaknesses but, in turn, these words strengthen our relationships.

Obviously, there are some faults in our lives that should not be discussed with our children. However, an occasional reminder to them that “to err is human” is a healthy and helpful teaching tool.

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