Letting your children learn and grow from their mistakes
Is it possible, Solo-Mom friends, that we sometimes—just sometimes—might be projecting our own wounds, beliefs, and patterns on our children?
Is it possible that when we sit with our child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to make sure that every piece of homework is complete, it is because we’re so afraid of failing that we try to prevent our child from it? Or that some of the things we think about our kids (they procrastinate, are lazy, don’t try, don’t listen, and talk back) are not about them at all but a reflection of ourselves?
If there is any chance that might be true, then there is also the possibility that we can hit the pause button and attempt to reset some of our own patterns, beliefs, and wounds.
Of course it’s way easier, at least on the surface, to focus on our kids and try to change them so that we can guarantee they become successful, brilliant, and happy adults.
I have to confess that I am still a work in progress, and I know that I have, on many occasion, mind you, done too much for my kids as a way of avoiding my own stuff. (There’s another word I could use here, so please replace as you see fit.)
Confession 1: I would pick out my son’s clothes every day so that he would look good (because appearances matter).
Confession 2: I used to drive him two blocks to school so he wouldn’t be late and then the other parents and teachers would think he was responsible (though we could have walked in the same amount of time).
Confession 3: I redid every household chore I asked my son with ADHD to do. Though one part of me knew he couldn’t match my skills in cleaning, I didn’t want us to look bad, and I didn’t want to spend time teaching and reteaching him. And it was easier to do it myself.
It took me years to figure out that I was doing too much for my kids and that I was doing it because I didn’t want to be judged or late or messy or dirty. I realized that my motivation for doing too much was to protect me and not to support my children.
While I was working through those issues, I was also learning how to let my kids make mistakes, learn new skills, problem solve, and find creative solutions. I tried to let them own their actions and experiences.
It wasn’t easy; when my son did the dishes after dinner, I had to leave the room. I couldn’t bear that he didn’t do them like I would. I also vowed to never bring homework, projects, or lunch to school if they were forgotten and left at home. (I would, however, call or e-mail the teacher to make sure that it was covered—so I only get partial credit for this one.)
One big lesson I learned is when we do too much for our kids, we remove the opportunity for them to grow into the successful, brilliant, happy adults we hope they become. We can also rob our children of the opportunity to succeed and feel proud at their achievements.
We all learn from our mistakes. My kids are all much older now, but I still have to intentionally practice not doing too much for them. I literally sit on my hands or take a walk just to prevent myself from jumping in to solve their problems. Every time I do it, I release just a little more of my own anxiety and fear.
Another thing I learned to do is to allow them to see how I handle myself. I began to share my inner dialogue out loud. My son listened to me say to myself that I knew he could do the dishes and that I was not helping and so I needed to leave the room. He saw me struggle with my own doubts, and I think, or at least hope, that it gave him a way to describe what he was doing when learning to do something new or different.
I still do this, especially when I am having a “mom moment” and realize I just told him he should remember a coat before he goes out. I might say, “Oops, sorry. I know you are perfectly capable of deciding whether or not to bring a coat. I am learning to stop doing things that I had to do when you were little. Have fun!”
I must confess that I also want to do something for my kids sometimes because it is something that matters to me. I want them to have goals because I do. I want them to do well in school because I did.
Raising kids with differences has made it both easier and harder for me to parent them. They already struggle so much that I want to carry some of their burden. But by carrying it, I am telling them that I don’t think they are capable of doing it on their own. That makes it harder. It’s not all or nothing; like all of parenting, it is a constant dance of forward and back, in and out, up and down.
We can adapt and change, and most of us will do it one step at a time. Like the saying goes, we may be going one step forward and two steps back, but another name for that is the cha-cha.
To connect with other Solo Moms doing the dance, join ESME’s confidential community of Sisters.
Anna Stewart is ESME’s Kids with Special Needs Resource Guide and the Solo Mom of a daughter and two sons on the brink of adulthood. She’s a champion for the rights of people living with disabilities and those who love them.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.