Parents Make Mistakes, Too: Our Kids Need to Know We’re Not Perfect

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I’ve made some mistakes in my life. At face value, this is no big admission, because we’ve all made mistakes. However, I recently decided it was time to share this news with my daughter and that made the admission take on a whole new meaning.

Now, my daughter knows that I am not perfect. After all, I gave birth to her as a teen. However, I felt it was time to share with her how that came to be and where I was at that time in my life. I’ve pretty much been mum on the situation her whole life, although she knows it wasn’t the happiest time for me. It reached a point where I thought it was best that she learn why that wasn’t a happy time for me.  I will always be genuine with my children; I decided to come clean.

This wasn’t about stating the obvious, or just admitting my flaws. My daughter, more than anyone, knows my many imperfections because she had a front row seat in my life during my time in the wilderness of “trying to get it right.” This was about providing her with context about some choices I made and how she and I both ended up having to live with them.

As women, we can carry a lot of guilt and shame over some of the choices we’ve made in our past. My past is not a very sordid one, but there are some things I wish I had done differently. Back then, I wish I knew how to put myself first. You learn to accept those things and move on. I didn’t have a bad childhood, but it wasn’t an easy one, either.  I didn’t engage in drugs or alcohol. I was mostly a bookish kid, who despite being an excellent student, just wanted to be accepted by someone–anyone. This feeling of want and emptiness is what led to most of my troubles. As a teen, I was looking for love in a hopeless place. I recently told my daughter that while I was in love with my her dad during our time together, it was doomed because I wasn’t in love with me.

By not fully loving myself, I made some reckless decisions. The biggest lapse in judgment had to be when, after giving birth to my daughter, I opted not to take an offer of a full scholarship to a renowned historically black university. This offer included provisions for my newborn baby as well. I decided not to go to school because I didn’t want to leave her dad. I wanted him to be an integral part of her life and for us to try to be a family.  I wasn’t sure how to make that happen if I moved so far away.  I was too young, too hormonal and despite people trying to convince me otherwise, I was just not thinking straight. Needless to say, things did not work out between us and by the time I realized the totality of my mistake, it was too late.

I felt stupid and like I had failed her. What would become of our future, now? Another statistic? I should have taken that scholarship and not looked back. It took years for me to come to terms with the regret over that decision, but life has come full circle and things are good.

All of this was news to my daughter. She didn’t know that I’d given up my dream to go to college to try and make a life with her dad. When I shared this little bit of background information with her, she said it helped her to understand me and better empathize with some of the frustration I may have shown toward him over the years.

I’d hoped by sharing this with her, it would show the more human side of me. The side of me who was vulnerable and disappointed, long before I was bitter.  I’ve since let all of that go, but the hurt and animosity toward her father was there and I wanted to give her more insight into why. As mothers, I think we have to be transparent with our daughters about who we are and how we got to where we are. In my experience, it has deepened our mother-daughter bond, because my daughter feels more comfortable coming to me with tough decisions she’s facing. She now knows that at one point in time, I had to make some tough choices, too.

This is why I think we must share our stories with our girls (be they painful or uplifting) to better assist them as they begin to write the stories of their own lives. Mistakes will be made. It’s a part of life and it’s okay. If nothing else, I hope my daughter learns from my story that it is okay to put herself first.

Have you ever come clean to your daugther? What did you tell her?

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