I experienced a surprising moment of shame yesterday as a parent. For those of you who read my article, 1st Day of Preschool, I was already really nervous about what other adults would think about my children at preschool. I didn’t even realize how much other people’s opinions mattered to me until today. I think I derive much of my identity from being put together, and when I display moments of disorganization and chaos in public, it can really throw me off.
When the preschool door opened at the end of class, I noticed one of my girls was wearing her emergency dress, the one she would need if she had a potty accident. I immediately felt so embarrassed that she had had an accident. I wondered if she had made a big mess, or if the other kids had noticed. I wondered what the teacher thought. And for one second, I was really upset with myself. I felt so much shame that my child had caused a scene. I felt like my parenting skills would be called into question.
So many thoughts for such a short moment.
And then I looked up at her face. She was beaming and ran up to me and said, “I had so much fun today!” And I thought, if she’s not upset about this, why am I? Accidents happen to the best of us, and they are not a reflection of our parenting skills or our character. They are simply outliers within a collection of experiences.
As a perfectionist in recovery, I have always struggled to make mistakes. Intellectually I know we achieve growth through trial and can learn more from our mistakes than our successes; however, I realized today that I still have a long way to go with not only accepting my faults but learning what is and is not a reflection of me. My actions are a reflection of me, not the actions of my family members. I cannot take responsibility for how everyone else acts; I can only take responsibility for myself.
I feel like I put so much pressure on myself to do everything well that when something goes wrong, I have a lot of trouble accepting it and moving on without feeling guilt, shame, or embarrassment. Sometimes I do great with loving myself through it, but moments like today shake me up because I feel like I’ve made so much progress in this area.
But what I came away with, after all of this processing in a very short period of time, is that I have a choice. I can hold my children to an impossible standard and acquaint them with the companions of perfectionism: anxiety and depression, or I can teach them to love themselves, mistakes and all.
So I gave my daughter a big hug and asked her how today went. I listened while she rattled off about coloring and playing outside, and I made sure there was not a single shred of shame on my face. There is no reason for a toddler to feel guilt over a potty accident. It is not only a very normal developmental experience, but I refuse to be the catalyst for my children feeling inadequate. We are all different, but we are not better than each other.
I want my daughters to know they can make as many mistakes as they want, and I will still love them. I will still be proud of them. I will always be there to give them a hug and listen with a smile on my face.