Sometimes I feel like learning how to parent well is like learning how to swim, ride a bike or drive a car. You can read everything you can get your hands on about the topic, you can understand the process logically, you can have a firm grasp of the concepts involved, but there is no way to actually learn how to do it except by trial and error.
It took me a relatively long time to learn how to swim, ride a bike and drive a car. I flunked the Red Cross Yellow level six times before I finally learned how to float on my back without assistance. I was ten years old before I rode a bike without training wheels, and nineteen before I would confidently drive a car on my own. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to fail at these things before I tried them. It’s a sensible approach, I guess. Who wants to sink to the bottom of the pool, skin your knees falling off a bike or crash into another car? But I couldn’t learn those skills without risking failure.
Failure is Part of Parenting
Just like skinned knees are part of learning how to ride a bike, and stalling the car when the light turns green is part of learning how to drive a standard transmission, learning to parent will inevitably mean doing and saying things that feel like mistakes. Losing my temper, shouting, making unreasonable demands, even forgetting that my child is only three and has only just learned how to dress herself – these are my trials and errors in parenting. I often know what a better approach might be, but knowing that when I’m sitting calmly by myself is quite different than being able to do so while dealing with an uncooperative child and screaming baby.
These mistakes are part of the learning process as long as I recognize that I’m making them and work to set things straight again as soon as possible. Parenting is hard work not only because children have such boundless energy, but because we as parents have to continually learn and grow and admit our mistakes as we figure out how to care for our individual children as they change and mature. I want to remember that anytime I parent in a way that makes me feel like I’ve fallen off my bike I have a chance to say, “I don’t like the way I handled that. I’m going to try again.”