A dad shared his regret at not being home more when his children were tiny. While he succeeded professionally, he thinks his relationships with his 4 and 6 year-old daughters are beyond repair.
A mother told me her 5 year-old won’t stay in his own bed. Every night she runs a relay, returning him to his bed time and again. It’s her own fault, she moans. She loved cuddling him to sleep as an infant, and now he can’t sleep without her. According to this mom, she’s ruined him for sleep for all time.
Both parents feel guilt and frustration about their perceived mistakes. But as I look at their children, I see resilient kids who seem to be doing just fine.
And here’s why. Children don’t beat themselves up when they fail.
Travel back to the nursery to watch a toddler learn to stack blocks. He sees one block on the floor. He carefully picks up a second and tries to set it on top of the first. It falls over because he doesn’t have it centered for balance.
Does he weep with regret? Nope. He picks the block up again and tries a second time. And a third. Each time he watches how the block falls, and makes slight adjustments to his method.
Finally, on his fourth try, the block stays on top of the first, and his face lights up. Along the way, this little one faces lots of failure. But instead of agonizing, he uses what he learns to gather information for his own success without guilt or remorse. Children just keep moving forward, using everything they learn from their mistakes.
Parents are trapped by internalized guilt over their mistakes, rather than seeing each one as a chance to learn more about what works with our children. Worry and remorse rob of us energy we need to enjoy our kids.
So for that dad, I would wonder: how can you spend more time with your girls now to carve out the relationships you want? And to the mom, I would ask: aren’t you grateful for the years of snuggles you’ve had with your child? Now, how can you support his learning new sleep habits?
At every step along the way, we can follow our children’s lead, using our mistakes to help us figure out what works.