Wednesday, September 24, 2008

“The Freedom to Fail is the Freedom to Succeed”

I grew up believing that failure was unacceptable. From the time I was tiny, I learned that mistakes were unpleasant things I needed to avoid at all costs. Being the eldest child in my family, I wanted to please the adults around me, so I did all I could to excel at everything I attempted. In most of the arts-- especially the performing arts-- I was successful. But those things that fell short of my expectations were discarded and pushed completely out of my life. (Math was never one I could completely avoid, but I sure tried!)
I have always had confidence and ambition in my talents, and I worked hard in my youth to meticulously develop and grow them. I joined all the groups I could, performed regularly, and practiced constantly. But I look back on those years now, and see all of the challenges, (such as academics) that I casually abandoned because I did not see immediate success. In the areas of study that interested me, or were intuitive, I thrived. The subjects that would have challenged and pushed me were given up, if they were even attempted at all. I wonder now if I would be a different person today if I had pushed through the unpleasant failures and turned them into successes. Could I have overcome those things that did not come easily to me?
This tendency to reject the difficult and focus only on my strengths is a behavior I still struggle with today, although running a household and being a parent have brought more balance to my expectations. I have been forced by failures and circumstances to learn to “lower my standards” and find joy in the little victories, rather than expecting perfection in my efforts. One of those unchangeable circumstances I've faced is that housework is never done, and never CAN be done. I've finally realized (after 16 years of running a home) that there will never be any accolades or parades in the streets for doing the dishes or for placing clean underwear in drawers. 
With nine children, I can not take care of household duties and children on my own. Though my husband is a great help, he cannot be home with me throughout the day. It took years of reading homemaking and parenting books, that helped me finally let go of my stubborn determination to be perfect (while wallowing in guilt daily that I could not attain what level of perfection I felt I “should” be attaining). 
For example, some of these epiphanies came from Marla Ciley “FlyLady”, her e-mail list and book, “Sink Reflections.” She talks a lot about giving up our perfectionism, and accepting that “Housework done a little at a time still blesses my family.” I learned that a mere fifteen minutes on a task could put me that much closer to a clean house, and it made me feel good to accept my limits, and not demand so much of myself. Then, because I freed myself from my unbalanced expectations, I was able to accept the contributions of my children with more gratitude and praise, and with less comments about how they could have “done it better/right”.
Parenting is another area that has changed my perspective in a big way. When my older children were small, I now realize that I expected far too much of them. At the time, I really was trying to be a “good” parent by demanding adult behavior of my little ones. We were always complimented on how “well-behaved” our children were, and that just added fuel to the fire of my pride! Then, when those children grew, and more little ones were added to our family, I came to realize how fleeting childhood is, and recognized that I had done my 0lder children a disservice by expecting too much, too soon. 
Luckily, we found and implemented the TJEd principles in our family culture, and I was able to back off of my conveyor belt mentality. Then recently, my husband and I took a good look at “Love and Logic” principles, and tried them in our home. Our relationships with our children have improved an hundred fold, and we have finally been able to let go of our impractical ideals of what their “success” should look like. Like Ralph's dad in the book Little Britches, we are now letting natural consequences and real work, rather than the contrived, teach our children. And we've saved our relationships with them in the process. Their confidence is soaring, and they are going far and above our expectations in their efforts because they are choosing their own paths and overcoming their own obstacles. All we had to do was teach them correct principles with love, and then stand out of their way to allow them to fail or succeed on their own.
 Today, I am still finding a fine line between giving something up out of discouragement, and being able to accept my limits and say “no” to things that are not right for me, at present. (Not being able to say “NO” is another weakness of mine for another blog entry...) But as I look back at where I've been, and can see how far I have come, I am finding that I can more easily accept my failures and learn from them: I can endure many pregnancies; I can teach  a Shakespeare class my way, without guilt or apology; I can fulfill my duties at church, and learn valuable lessons in difficult circumstances; I can study my scriptures and pray and take a quiet hour each day to commune with God; and yes, I can even survive writing a paper for my Five Pillar book group! 
I hope that my children are watching, and that they can see that the difficult things in their own lives are challenges they can tackle, without abandoning them. And I'm watching and learning from my children, as well. I can honestly say that my failures are giving me the freedom to succeed, too!

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