Life is full of mistakes, at work, in relationships, or even in casual public encounters. We think in the moment “well that was not awesome”, but we move on. Hopefully, we learn something and do better to prevent future mistakes. We do not have to be defined by those mistakes. However, we all have some area where we feel our mistakes more acutely. Regardless of where that is, I have encouragement for you.
Since I am a parent, no secret where I feel mine the most. Having a child comes with plenty of mistakes, but when you have a child with any kind of physical or mental health issue those mistakes seem compounded with tremendous guilt. As a mom who carried that child into the world I asked myself over and over again, was it something I did when I was pregnant that caused this? My rational mind knows the answer is most assuredly no, but my heart has difficulty accepting it. For all the progress my son has made with his spectrum issues, I still struggle with this and at least a thousand other things to feel guilty about. Every little mistake plays on a loop, like highlight reels of my worst parenting moments. Then when something happens that greatest hits of mistakes and guilt are right there to confirm my failings! Are you shaking your head right now? Keep reading.
When my son was younger he used to have really bad melt downs. Our way of gauging the situation was to use a storm rating scale from afternoon thunderstorm, to tropical storm, and finally category one through five hurricanes. I would document these episodes in my behavior journal looking for triggers and outcomes. Sometimes they would get so bad, think hurricane Katrina force emotions, and I did not always handle them just right. When the melt down was over, and the little guy usually had fallen asleep from all the emotional energy expended, I would be devastated. I had made significant mistakes in those moments.
My husband travels a lot for work and so many of these storms I had to endure alone. To say I cried a lot would be an understatement. For a couple of years these storms were so bad, I thought I was losing my mind. I went to therapy every week with my son and put on a brave face like everything was fine. I did not want to burden anyone with my problems, mistakes, and mishandling of the situation. I felt tremendous guilt about these storms, and worse felt that so many people had it worse than me. I actually reminded myself “at least my child is not dying”, because as a pediatric ICU nurse I had been there with parents who had that reality. So who was I to complain? After all, somehow this was probably my fault. Right? Or so I thought.
So when the storm was over, I would sometimes crawl into the bathtub in my room. I did not fill it up, I just climbed in and cried. I thought for sure over the years I would fill that tub up with tears. I would rock back and forth, grabbing my knees to my chest, pray, sob, be angry, and be hurt. Sometimes I would even mourn the loss of the day, and the idea that my child might not ever do the things everyone else’s child will do. I was guilty, I was a failure, I was making things worse, and on and on. I kept crying while my tears filled the tub. My highlight reel played on loop.
Then one day as the storm was over, and I was in my tub I realized something powerful. That when the storms were over, everything was ok. That things returned to normal. That while I felt broken in the moment, I had another chance to get it right next time. I could learn and grow. However, most importantly I learned that I could just as easily fill that tub with mercy. I could forgive myself in the moment for what went wrong, what ever mistake I had made leading up to, sometimes causing, and certainly in the midst of the storm. I had to forgive myself. I had to accept my flaws and recognize that failure was not fatal. I started to change my highlight reel to things I had done right instead of all that I did wrong. I changed my behavior journal to reflect more of what I learned from the storm and to build safe guards and strategies to use in the future.
So while I continued to cry, I changed my tub from all tears to more mercy. Then the next time, more mercy and less tears. Sometimes it is hard, but as parents or loved ones dealing with daily struggles like this, or just struggles in your own life, we have to give ourself mercy. We have to forgive ourselves of the mistakes we make and move past them. When we practice mercy, and we get better at it. I promise that is true, and as a result of this mercy we are better equipped to handle the next set of storms.
This week I challenge each of you to forgive yourself for what ever mistakes you make, learn something from them, and move forward. The one thing living in Florida has taught me about storms, is that no matter how bad the weather is in the moment that you are certain to see the sun again soon. It is ok to cry, and it is ok to let others know you cry – that is not weakness. Just make sure you fill your tub with mercy too, you deserve that much.
Until next week be focused and be merciful to yourself,
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