By Cheryl Hansen
Last weekend, my 10-year-old son picked at his braces just enough to warrant a visit to the orthodontist. Again. We go a lot. So, yeah—I was angry. I’m busy this week and I did not need another trip to the orthodontist as a result of actions he knows, as of about 10 days ago, would likely turn out badly. But before I could even bust out my best angry-mom voice, he was in tears. Genuine tears. Most critiques—incomplete homework, too-long-showers, losing his shoes—again—end the same way. He gets super upset and proceeds to beat himself up, acknowledging that he does indeed know better, but he just can’t seem to get it right. Ever.
This is frustrating. I certainly don’t correct him in an effort to make him cry. But there are some things—like broken braces—that warrant some gentle critique. So I tried to explain to him that instead of crying and getting angry with himself—as always is the case—I just want him to stop, think and maybe make a plan so it doesn’t happen again. “We don’t expect you to be perfect. But when you make a mistake, just figure out how to do better next time.”
The kid in me heard the mom in me loud and clear. Turns out I’m a lot like my son. Every time I goof—miss a workout or indulge in a wildly unnecessary treat—I pretty much burst into tears (on the inside) and berate myself much like I hear my son do. And I certainly don’t stop, think or make a plan to avoid the same mistake the next time.
Not only did I learn something about myself, I learned something about my kid, too. I suspect that what’s really frustrating him, what really triggers those big reactions isn’t the mistake itself, but the fact that he does know better. It feels bigger. Like a character flaw. Like he’s inherently bad.
Like I’m inherently bad.
Except he’s not. And I’m not. We’re both just finding our way. And nobody expects us to be perfect.