Google+ Authentic Parenting: The Freedom To Make Mistakes

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Freedom To Make Mistakes

After reading a post from dohiyi mama, I felt inspired to write a little something about children and mistakes... well especially teens and tweens and mistakes.

WARNING: I will be disclosing personal information here, so if you are a family member - like my mom - please avert your eyes. Seriously. DON'T READ THIS!

AGAIN I'm not saying this as a teaser, if you are my mom, click away and go watch images of flowers or something.

OK Now I hope if you are my mom you have already gone far far away from here.

A lot of parents worry that their children might one day make the same mistakes they did, or worse. Generally, what happens is that the parent tries to avoid such a thing from happening by forbidding that what it is they fear the most.

When I was growing up, my mother's main concerns were smoking and sex. I remember her telling me over and over never to smoke. She herself had smoked, and so did my father, even after we were born and during both her pregnancies. So she kept pressing that I should never smoke, because it is a dirty habit and you're hooked before you know it and it is really difficult to quit.
Guess what? I started smoking when I was 14 years old. Secretly. After a long time, I told my mom, who obviously already knew, and then I was allowed to smoke around her - by that time I was about 20. I never smoked around my father, eventhough he knew too - he pretty much always was of the ostrich kind. I quit smoking when I was pregnant.
Second thing was sex. Oh I cannot count the times my mom told me to not have sex, to wait until I was older, until I had found the right person, blabla... result is that I got talked into doing it when I was 15 with a guy I didn't even love, actually hardly even knew, and never saw again after that (basically he dumped me right after that).
So I think we can safely say the the 'stricktly forbidden' approach does not work.

Another topic a lot of parents have issues with is alcohol. Some parents apply the 'stricktly forbidden' tactics here too, or the 'not as long as you're under my roof'. With basically the same results, children sneaking booze into their sodas, sneaking of to drink or going all 'spring break' once they are out of the reach of parental control.

Alcohol was not a big issue when I grew up. Actually, my father is a big wine fan and we were involved in the sunday tasting ritual that was generally the interlude of our sunday family dinner. I'm talking something like seven eight years old here, I can't quite remember. As we grew older, we were included in the apero and got a slightly milder cocktail.
I did drink when I went out. I did get totally pissed on occasion. However, I never had these booze fests end in the hospital (as my husband and many of my friends did). Sure I drank like a botomless pit when I was at uni (I was president at one point). But it never got out of control and ever since I ended Uni, I stopped drinking altogether, except on very very rare occasions. Most of my friends from uni now empty a bottle a day with their partner, after work.

So I'm thinking that the 'controlled allowing' approach works a lot better then forbidding.
But let's just put the 'how to approach this'-question aside and think about it a little further. Would it really be bad if your child makes some 'errors' in her life? It's even rather silly that we call those 'wild' things by such names like errors, mistakes, ... They are things we all learn from, experiences rather, that yield a lot of interesting conclusions and life lessons. What would life be without them?
Yes I had sex before I was ready for it, I smoked, I drank, I danced naked on a stage in front of a crowd on multiple occasions, I had several sexual partners, I fell in love hard and bounced back.  I got drunk. I threw up and went back to drinking. I crawled home ...
But I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I am not ashamed of (most of) these choices many might call mistakes. I learned from them, I grew trough them.

Yes, indeed all parents hope that their children don't make irreparable mistakes. But please, let them make their choices, let them have their fun, and let them learn from their experience.

Image: foxandfeathers on Flickr



  1. I agree, but it is very difficult for a parent! I believe in giving all the information, but allowing them to make their own decisions about it! My teen of 17 is very conservative, which I encourage (with an inward smile). Although I am not conservative myself!
    I hope that she can delay most of the stuff for later...

  2. ...great thoughts. As long as we teach them how to "bounce back" with communication and insight, then you are right. Experience is worth a ton! Once their prefrontal cortex is fully developed they will see their silly choices led to the responible ones. Thanks for sharing....

  3. Hmmm... now that I think about it, my parents never told me to not drink, smoke, or do drugs... they just said something along the lines of it'll mess you up. They did tell me to not have sex- the one thing I DID do. HMMMMMM. lol

  4. I love this message. And its a hard nut to swallow!LOL! You know what I mean. But, I just want to try and be a little more conservative in my parenting. Even though I'll make mistakes still as an adult mom. I just hope my daughter trusts that I wouldnt ever encourage her, to do anything that could harm herself or her body.

  5. Right about everything! The no sex thing is my only regret. Mom stressing me not to do it, not to do it, me dumping a good guy and a few months later doing it with the wrong one! The mistakes our parents make.
    I can tell you however what my dad did right! He was a smoker, about 2 packs a day until he decided to quit. So, when I became interested in smoking he started leaving packs of cigarettes around the house, but really strong one, not for beginners. Result is I never managed to smoke! My best friends mom took her out shopping and asked her to chose what she wants to smoke. She's not a smoker either.
    The controlled allowing really does work and I plan to apply it with my children!

  6. Second time AP has an article reminding me of my African friend. She is 84 and from Uganda. Her child raising advice is excellent. One thing she stresses to me, especially about my teens is, "Don't say NO too much. The more you tell NO, the more they will do that thing. Tell them, 'I don't like that thing', tell them why you don't like it, then say, 'hmph, but you will do what you want.' It makes a teenager feel strong and that is good. They see you trust them and they will trust you. But... your teenager will be very bad no matter what, especially if he is a girl."
    (her pronouns are always funny)
    She says with younger ones to not tell them they can't have any donuts at all, but that they may have ONE.
    Things like that.
    "Everything you call NO turns into gold to a child."

  7. Kerra - Ah, that's great. :)

    Mama Poekie - You know how I referenced the show Everybody Loves Raymond in my post? I got to see the end of it today and it cracked me up when I thought of your response. Raymond says to his twin boys, "Okay, I won't yell anymore, but you have to promise to do everything I tell you until you're 60... 65. Okay? Fair deal? Good. Now don't think I'm stupid and actually think we have a deal going on here. You're gonna do what you want. Just please make sure that Mommy and Daddy never find out about it. We don't wanna know..."

  8. I think the best thing you can do in this situation is not say anything. Just model the behavior's you would like you're children to adopt. After all, "children don't always do what we say, but they always do what we do".
    My parents trusted me and didn't lecture me much about anything- I didn't do drugs, smoke or have sex (until I was 17 and to the man I married- no regrets). But in my family, my dad would occasionally binge drink at parties and I saw that my whole life growing up. So, yep, I did binge drink at parties from about 16.
    It wasn't disastrous as you say, but him doing it and being comfortable with it made it seem like a 'lesser' crime.

    But of course I'm not as perfect as saying that makes me out to be and there will ALWAYS be exceptions!

  9. Great article! I totally agree, that talking to children is way better than "forbidding" them. Whatever is forbidden is desired.

  10. Interesting...I have often heard this idea, and certainly rebellion does play a role. My husband's dad was very strict, and my husband went wild once he had a car and job. My parents weren't really strict. When we were teens we were split up, and the two brothers who went with my dad smoked (as my dad does), the two who didn't (including me) never smoked (nor did my mom). We all enjoy alcohol a bit too much, but we were allowed to sip a glass on New Year's. Sex well, I had strict rules for myself regarding sex, but teenage hormones and a big comfy boyfriend's car threw those out the window;o).


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