Mistakes and How to Make Them
Take 30 seconds and think back to your last mistake or to your most memorable one. Some people equate mistakes with failures. Being the person I am, I tend to do that but immediately think of the Edison quote about failure. You know the one, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” (Thomas A. Edison). I try, diligently, to put a positive spin on things. I am not trying to be fake or phony. I just don’t want to be the cold water on everyone’s party. (Admit it, you thought of someone when you read that, well I don’t want to be them.)
I can identify my three biggest mistakes without hesitation.
- Blaming God and turn from my faith when it was people that failed me
- Being a probation officer to my son instead of his Mom
- Not fighting for different diagnosis for my younger son
These are big ticket mistakes. They have caused ripples through my life and the lives of many others. The blaming God issue is a whole other blog post, I’m going to deal with my other biggies right now.
My oldest biological son was a very happy little boy. Sometime after the divorce, remarriage and other pitfalls in life he became an angry, sad boy. Thanks to his Dad and the school he also was a medicated boy. Diagnosed with ADHD (which truthfully, I agree with in his case) we tried different meds, some successful with minimal side effects and others the side effects worse than the ADHD. All of this lead to him ultimately refusing his to take his meds. Violently refusing. He became a sullen, angry and pre-teen. As a pre-teen and teen we struggled with pot, cigarettes and some teen drinking. He would run off, but stay in sight so we could not call him a run away. Eventually, he became so out of control that we involved juvenile services. We had tried counseling. He refused to go and when he did go, he did not participate. As a probation officer for adults, I knew the system and juvenile services could assist without impacting his adult record. It was all very practical in theory. We were desperate for help. The problem was like most teens, he could be manipulative. He would be an angel around his grandparents and teachers, then torment everyone else. It was Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde. Do not misunderstand me, I always knew there was a good person under all this anger and acting out…I just could not reach him.
During this time, I was about as far from God as I could be. He still had the grace to protect my son from real harm, but the battles raged in our home. My son ended up in a Wilderness Camp…at his request. He wanted to go. He graduated the program, did well for a while and then bottomed out again. We went through two involuntary commitments and during neither episode did the facilities evaluate him for any type of mental health disorder. They simply wrote it off as oppositional defiance disorder. Forgive me, but DUH. What 16/17 year old is not ODD these days. I asked about bi-polar disorder and was ignored. I am not a clinician but I had worked with many clients that suffered with Bi-polar and my son manifested many of the same issues.
Herein lies my mistake. Every decision I made with my son was made as a probation officer. My training kicked in. Biologically we all respond with fight or flight, when fight kicked in for me, so did my training. That may have been the right course of action but all the elements of mothering that should have gone with it were absent. Do not misunderstand, I was a wreck. It broke my heart. I did not sleep or eat for days at a time. The problem is I disconnected and went on auto pilot.
The second big mistake was with my younger biological son. He too was diagnosed with ADHD. I disagreed with this from the beginning. He was a little hyper, but what 3rd grader will sit and read for hours if he is ADHD. I argued with the school, with counselors and with the doctor. I ran out of steam and he was treated for ADHD.
Surprise! After multiple medications, none of them made a significant difference. Teachers could not tell when he was or was not on the meds. I eventually weaned him off. His behavior continued to be a challenge at school but we coped. Then, I had a client with probation/parole with Asperger’s. He was being paroled and I had an extensive meeting with his mother. As we talked, I felt like she was describing my son. I started reading about Asperger’s and made an appointment to have my son evaluated.
He was diagnosed with Asperger’s. It is a relatedly mild case considering but now so much makes sense. If I had fought more when he was young, perhaps I could have achieved his diagnosis earlier in life. He was diagnosed at 14. Did you know that in most cases services through insurance for Asperger’s (an autistic spectrum disorder) have to diagnosed at a pre-school age to be covered. It is almost impossible to find appropriate therapies for people my son’s age. Again, his case is mild. He will be able to function on his own, though he is socially awkward and his apartment will probably be gross…he will not always live in my basement.
We make a lot of mistakes. My blogs have grammatically errors that drive me nuts, in fact there is probably one in this blog I will catch at a later date. I once sent out a resume with a typo, I was mortified. I hit a bad note singing a solo. I screwed up things raising my kids. I hurt people I love. I missed opportunities to make positive impacts. I’ve made lots of mistakes. We have to learn from them. Everything I did wrong with my boys made me more gentle with parents and teens when I worked briefly as a social worker. I am not as quick to judge people who act contrary to social norms. I have figured out where all the great advice my parents have came from, it is from their mistake with me and my sister. No one is perfect, even my fantastic parents.
For all the mistakes I made, I did some pretty awesome things too. My oldest son has zero tolerance for real racism. He acts like redneck, but don’t start making racist comments cause he will put you in your place quickly. I taught my children to see people not color, race, religion, creed, nationality etc. My kids don’t care how much money you make, where you live, or any of that. They just want to know if you are cool to hang around. I am proud of that in my kids.
So I will not be writing any “Train Your Child This Way” books. I have definitely found 100,000 ways not to train my children and at least another 200,000 ways not to talk to them, but we have had our successes too. At the end of the day, all four of the boys know that I love them. They know they can talk to me about anything. In fact two out of the four have some serious over-share moments with me. (I’m thankful, but seriously…Mom cannot unhear those things guys.)
I have to end with a positive spin. Mistakes mold not only us but those around us. Though my oldest son had not fully discovered it yet, he is a strong, good man. My youngest is creative and will find his niche once he is out on his own. My oldest step-son wrestles sharks, no seriously, that is what he does in his spare time. The youngest step-son is destined to do something great if he maintains his focus. They are all good men in the making. They each have their own path. I am proud of each of them. The mistakes I and the rest of the parent squad have made will strengthen them when they become parents, just as the mistakes of our parents strengthened us. I used to say I was a bad parent. I was not a bad parent. I love my kids and I do everything I can to keep them safe. I am not mother of the year, but I am not a bad mom.
If you are in the boat I have been in. The one taking on water from the guilt of parenting mistakes with no life rafts in sight, swim for shore. Every child is different. Stop comparing yourself to the perfect family at church or at school. Trust me everyone is missing a screw somewhere, they have probably just adapted to it. Forgive yourself and seek out others like you. I did not have other parents that I connected with before. I think that was a huge hurt for me. I was all work, family and crisis management.
Be a family, not a crisis manager.
PS – Perfection is a illusion, unless you are a magician, get over trying to be perfect.