Library day. The day my seven year old looks forward to every week. She’s particularly pleased with this privilege since it’s one her younger sisters don’t yet get to enjoy. This is why last Tuesday night my sweet seven year old, cheeks muddled with tears, pleaded with me to help find her library book before we left for school the next morning. After she realized earlier in the evening that it was not in her backpack where it belonged, we looked for over an hour in every usual hiding place and then we spent even more time checking the unusual places. No luck.
Deflated and discouraged, she changed into pajamas, buried her head into her pillow, and cried. I was not feeling particularly compassionate. I wanted to remind her this is why we have a system and reiterated that if the book was where it belonged, then we wouldn’t have to spend over an hour looking for it.
But instead I bit my lip and kissed her head because a few weeks ago one of my high school students said something that stuck with me. A student mentioned she hesitated to be transparent with her parents because she felt like they never made mistakes and they wouldn’t be able to relate to her. Her words haunted me for the next few days.
I want my kids to be honest and open with me and, up until that conversation with a high schooler, I didn’t think sharing my own failures could impact their willingness to be transparent.
I don’t want my kids fearful of telling me something that’s happened or how they feel because they think I won’t relate.
After that conversation I became more aware of how I responded when my daughters made poor choices and mistakes. Did I constantly make it seem like I did everything correctly and they did everything wrong? More times than I care to admit, this was my posture.
That evening, instead of pulling out my mom voice, I sat down and lamented with her. I told her I understood her frustration and fear because I had recently misplaced something, too. She lifted her head and took a deep breath, “Mom, what if I NEVER find the book? Will I never get to go to the library again? Will my teacher think I’m a bad student? What if someone laughs at me because I couldn’t find my book?” I held her close and told her we would figure it out, together, but she might have to pay for the missing book with her own money. Calmed, but still disappointed, she closed her eyes and went to sleep.
I think if I had used my mom voice that night to remind her why we have a place for library books I would have missed her honest questions that gave me insight to what scared her the most. I also would have missed an opportunity to connect with my daughter and make her feel safe in the midst of a tough situation. I still think she needs to be reminded we have a system for a reason, but not in that moment. In that moment, she needed to know I cared more about her than a missing library book.
The next morning as I gathered bags to pack for school, I came across the library book on a shelf by the back door. A shelf way higher than she can reach. My husband or I probably saw the book laying around, placed it on the shelf, and then forgot about it. I was also relieved in that moment that I didn’t send her to bed with stern words and little hope – especially since the lost book wasn’t completely her fault!
These days I’m trying to be intentional about sharing personal stories of failure with my kids because I want them to see me as human and I want to open up doors for honest conversations. Honestly, it’s not very natural and it’s tough for me to do, but like anything else, practice and awareness leads to improvement.
I’m not advocating for oversharing or glamorizing past mistakes, but I do believe that sharing mistakes we’ve made and how we’ve handled failure is important not only for our relationship with our kids, but also for our children’s personal growth.
I want to start these conversations now so that when she’s 17 or 27, she’ll be confident to come to me no matter what she’s struggling through.
Anyone else with me? How have your children responded when you shared failures with them? Is there something holding you back from sharing failures with your kids? How have you shared failure without glamorizing past mistakes?