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The Imperfect Parent – Four Life Skills Your Kids Aren’t Too Young to Learn

September 26, 2012

For the first four or five years of parenthood, I was convinced that I had been raised by the perfect mom, and therefore, I had to be the perfect mom.

Never yell.

Never cry.

Never fight.

Never make mistakes.

Never apologize (because you’ve done nothing to apologize for). 

After she died, I began to be able to unpack a lot of old memories. I realized that, while she was an amazing mom, she was hardly perfect. She had her bad days. (She even called us brats once…it was so out of character we laughed. She didn’t see the humor.)

The bottom line is that I created an impossible model to follow. While I know that she must have struggled with fear, doubt, and anxiety – she never let us see her sweat. We rarely saw our parents disagree – it all happened behind closed doors.

The original boy-mom…

I love my mom dearly, and were she alive today, I know she’d do everything to dispel these false images I created, but she’s not. I had to figure it out for myself.

I don’t want that for my kids , so I’ve set out – we’ve set out – to set a different model for them to follow. Here are four life skills your kids aren’t too young to learn:

Apologize to your kids. “Because I said so.” “I’m the parent, you’re the child.” These adages from my parents’ generation served the purpose of setting boundaries, but rules without relationships often leads to rebellion. I know I struggled with this as a teen, as I’m sure some of you did also. We all mess up. We all lose it every once in a while. When I have bad days, when I come down harder than I should, when I yell…I go to them in humility and apologize. Create a model for your kids that shows them how to ask for forgiveness, and as importantly, how to receive it. 

Let them see your sorrow. Don’t hide your tears from your children – let them see you cry and help them understand that it’s okay to be sad. You may be surprised at how empathetic a young child can be. Scooby was four years old when my mom died – one afternoon about a year later, I stood at the stove feeling sad and missing her terribly. I wept a few quiet tears as I stood there, and Scooby happened to notice. He hopped up on the stool next to me and, without a word from me, said “Do you miss your mom?” He quietly stood there with his arm around me. Empathy and the practice of thinking of others’ feelings is a life skill that can’t be learned too soon – kids are adept at this skill by nature – I think they lose it for a while as teens, but with practice, it’ll come back!

Let them see you fail. Or more importantly, let them see you deal with failure or wrong decisions. Not long ago, Gabe implemented a consequence with one of the boys but, through no fault of his own, he didn’t have all the facts. Only later did we discover the rest of the story and it dramatically changed how we needed to deal with the situation. Gabe immediately went to his son and had a heart-to-heart. He apologized, they prayed together and agreed to start over. He not only didn’t lose any respect from his son, I believe he gained it and their relationship is stronger for that honesty and authenticity, not weaker.

Share your joy. The day I received news that I finally had an article accepted in a print publication was a huge moment for me – a milestone. There was no one home but my 8 year old son. I ran into the room, crying and laughing and jumping up and down like a complete idiot. He loved it. I told him what happened and to my astonishment, he took my face in both his little hands and said “I am so proud of you, mom.” Eight. He was eight! I’d never before spoken to him about writing or publishing. Even when it’s about things they can’t understand, let them share in your joys and triumphs just as in your sorrows. You might be surprised at just how much they do understand, after all.

No matter what the age of your children, there are certain life skills that they are never too young to learn. 

What are the life skills you’re already teaching your young children?

How are you setting a parenting model for your children to follow when they become parents?

Do you believe in “do as I say” or “do as I do”?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2012 8:35 pm

    Lovely, Adele. Good rules to live by at any age, actually – and with just about any relationship, most especially our kids.

  2. September 27, 2012 11:50 am

    Great tips and reminders…woven together beautifully. Thanks.

  3. October 1, 2012 11:17 am

    Oh my gosh, I am crying as I read this! This is awesome … you are so incredible at expressing everything moms think and feel!

    • April 26, 2013 7:13 am

      I’m with Christi — going thru an entire Kleenex box!!! Timeless truths, so beautifully illustrated.

  4. Elaine permalink
    April 26, 2013 8:56 am

    This is great! I’m getting all teary-eyed too :’) I don’t have kiddos yet, but I see so much of my nieces & nephew in this… and am reminded so much of my mom, who is wonderfully awesome, and okay with being imperfect.

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