“If you shut your door to all errors truth will be shut out.”

~ Rabindranath Tagore

Growing up my parents read to me from the Berenstain Bears stories where the papa bear often touted his wisdom whilst in the midst of doing unwise things. It was funny to watch him say “do as I do,” then get into a big mess, and pretend like his own action hadn’t caused his predicament. Papa bear’s model, however, reminds me of one of the things we often do as parents — pretend like or try to present the image that we’re perfect.

Our children know we’re not perfect — heck they’re usually are on the receiving end of our greatest moments of imperfection — so acting as if we are doesn’t fool them. And, of course, even if we don’t like to admit it, we know we’re simply human, so we can’t fool ourselves either.

“It is very easy to forgive others their mistakes; it takes more grit to forgive them for having witnessed your own.”

~ Jessamyn West

Why show your fallibility to your children?

I grew up thinking my mom was perfect in some fundamental way. Yes, I knew she yelled at me, was sometimes inattentive, and perhaps a bit too nice, but I carted her around as my role model for how I should be. From this I created an unattainable standard that I was to meet if I was to be loveable and worthy. I’ve spent many of my adult years releasing this impossible demand and still get tripped up by it from time to time. So let’s use this as our staring point on this list of “why let your children see your darkness/shadow/humanity/fallibility.”

  • It’s easier than trying to keep on your masks of perfection. Too much energy goes into pretending to be something we’re not or hiding what we’ve done in our own growing up journey.
  • It gives your children more freedom. When you allow them to see that you goof up, behave badly, and otherwise aren’t “all you can be,” you give them permission to be imperfect too.
  • It doesn’t work. Although our children may still idealize us in many ways, they witness our mistakes and live with us so there is truly no way to hide our less-stellar selves away from them.
  • It helps our children grow up stronger. Knowing that their humanity is normal means they won’t waste time trying for unachievable perfection. Knowing that everyone is fallible can make it easier for them to practice self-love even when they behave in unlovable ways.

Make it easier to show your fallibility

  • Laugh off your little goofs. “Oopsy-daisy” is one of our favorite ways to acknowledge a mini-miss. If I spill something from the refrigerator, stub my toe, or accidentally knock my child over it’s just not a big deal so we “oopsy” it and move on.
  • Say “I’m sorry” when you mean it. Especially when I know I’ve done something that wasn’t loving, I get defensive before I’m willing to admit my wrong-doing. If someone (usually my husband) starts to talk to me about what I did that didn’t work and why, I’ll sometimes just blurt out “I know. I’m sorry, okay!” Obviously I don’t really mean it and am using it to gain some space. Once I’ve had a few minutes it’s much easier for me to take responsibility and offer a genuine apology.
  • Own your (mis)deed without any add-ons or judgments. The other day when apologizing, my husband said, “I know I’ve been being a butthole.” I responded with, “No you’re not. You’ve been really irritable though.” Meanness, anger, carelessness are ways we sometimes behave but this doesn’t mean that we are mean, angry, or careless people (nor does it mean we’re buttholes, jerks, bitches, or any other judging label). Take responsibility for your actions without calling yourself a name (either out-loud or to yourself).
  • Learn from your mistakes and let them go. Especially when you’ve done something that really stings (for your own self-image, in particular), it’s often easy to obsess about it and beat yourself up long after the deed is done. Instead, evaluate what happened — What made it easy for you to behave badly? Why was your reaction so strong? How could you have prevented your poor choice? Then set a new intention or plan for avoiding similar situations in the future. Make amends and apologies as needed. Finally release your mistake into the past, carrying forward only the lesson learned.

“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems.  And that’s a big mistake.”

~ F. Wikzek

How have you learned to embrace your fallibility? What effect does your transparency seem to have on your children?