By Christine Adler

Learnable Moments


   I hate to be wrong. Just ask my husband.

   I'm convinced this is a direct result of being raised in the age of, “because I said so” and “because I'm the Mom,” by parents who never had to explain themselves to me, and who never made mistakes. At least that's how it seemed to me, because if they did make mistakes, they didn't admit it. Mom and Dad were the grownups and they knew best; that was the message I received, and I took comfort in the fact that, when I was an adult, I would always be right, too.

   Naturally, I grew up and realized that I wasn't always right just because I was an adult. The fact that I still struggle with, though, is that being wrong isn't a bad thing: It's a human thing. But I don't want my kids to struggle with it. So as a parent, I have vowed to handle things differently with my children. Vowing, of course, is easy; almost as easy as making mistakes. More difficult is learning from mistakes when you've made them, and toughest of all is admitting and correcting them.

Luckily, there always seems to be opportunities.

   Not long ago, for instance, my 8-year-old son, Jacob, received a coveted LEGO set as a gift while we were out visiting. Drooling over the box containing over 200 pieces, he asked me no less than six times if he could open and assemble it, but we were leaving shortly and I told him he would have to wait until morning. Disappointed and frustrated, he fell asleep with it in his lap on the way home. He was fighting a cold at the time, and since we'd gotten home late, I was hoping he would sleep in and get some extra rest the next morning. So when I saw his light on at 6am the next day, and found him with the LEGO set spread out on his bed, I was more than dismayed - I was angry. Giving up sleep to play with a toy! Leaving his door open and light on and risking waking his brother so early! What was he thinking?

   I went into his room loudly whispering, “No, no, no,” while scooping up the LEGOs and putting them back in their box, then ordering him back into bed. Needless to say, he was startled and upset. He got back into bed arguing (in a whisper), “But Mom, I was playing quietly!”  I wouldn't hear of it, told him not to get up again until 6:45, turned off his light and went back to bed. Afterward, too agitated to go back to sleep, I laid there and tortured myself over what had just happened. He had been dying to play with the toy from the moment he got it. He had pestered me relentlessly the night before, but didn't defy me by opening it (though he'd had plenty of opportunity). He was playing quietly this morning, and it was the weekend, with plenty of time to nap later if necessary.

   After much mulling, I came to the conclusion that I had blown it. No matter how I sliced it, Jacob was right. And he had even handled my outburst better than most kids would have. Then my ego stepped in. How to handle the situation? I had several options: thank him for going back to bed as told; congratulate him on his self-restraint the night before; drop the subject all together. Or I could swallow my adult pride, admit that I was wrong, that I had acted without thinking, and ask him to forgive me. More mulling made me realize I really only had one option. Welcome to one of Mom's learnable moments.

   At 6:45, when Jacob got up and started building again, I went in to see him. I explained why I had done what I had done, but offered no excuses for my behavior. I told him I was wrong and apologized, and he gave me a big hug and said it was OK. No long discussion ensued, no questions or expressions of relief. Did this mean I had made a bigger deal out of it than was necessary? I don't think so. My heart tells me that by admitting and explaining what I had done wrong, I showed Jacob several things: When you're wrong, say so because it shows others that you care - both about them and about becoming a better person; there are more important things than being right; and even grown ups make mistakes and can learn from them. It was also a good reminder for me.

   In a society where celebrities routinely get arrested one day and walk a red carpet the next, with no loss of love from fans, kids need to learn that this is not how real people live. We often read about famous people's bad deeds, but rarely hear of any changes in, or consequences for, their behavior.  As parents, we have the power, and the responsibility, to make sure our children don't grow up thinking that this is OK. Letting our kids see our human side - the one that never stops making mistakes - is a necessary thing. Demonstrating the self-assurance it takes to admit and learn from those mistakes will teach them to be on the lookout for their own learnable moments. And with any luck, they'll also know what to do when they find themselves in them.

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