It was a simple enough recipe – place peanuts and several types of chocolate in a crockpot for two hours and then scoop out the melted mixture in dollops to create bite-sized treats.
Simple, right? Well, not if you forget about it for four hours.
My younger daughter came downstairs when she smelled a pungent odor wafting from the kitchen. “What is that horrible smell, Mama?” she asked scrunching up her face as I scraped peanuts that now resembled black beans into the sink.
“I just wasted four bags of chocolate because I forgot to turn off the crockpot. I cannot believe I did that!” I chastised myself as I aggressively shoved charred clumps of chocolate into the garbage disposal. “And now I don’t have anything to bring to the party.” I didn’t try to hide my disappointment. I couldn’t believe I’d messed up something so simple.
And that’s when a little voice of wisdom cut right through the burnt haze of my frustration.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” consoled my daughter. “Remember, Mama?”
She was telling me to remember because those have been my words to her over the past three years. In every possible way, I tell her mistakes are okay. Mistakes are necessary. Mistakes are what happen when you are living life and taking chances.
Unlike her older sister, she doesn’t remember how it used to be. During my highly distracted years, the pressure to be perfect was fierce. Innocent mistakes were met with aggravated sighs and eye rolls. It wasn’t until I saw the pressure my older daughter was putting on herself that I realized I needed to stop shunning mistakes and embrace them as part of our home and our lives.
Although my older daughter lived with a perfectionistic mother for six years, her memories of the controlling, impatient, unapologetic version of myself are fuzzy. I know this because I brought it up recently during our nightly Talk Time. Earlier that day, I’d participated in a follow-up interview with Good Housekeeping magazine about letting go of perfection. Unexpectedly, the editors requested a fresh, untold story that I’d never written about before.
“Can you describe a time when you wanted things to be perfect to the point it made you lose your temper?” the editor had asked in an effort to jog my memory.
I closed my eyes and thought. Snippets of difficult to re-live memories were more easily retrieved than I expected. As I envisioned pink and yellow checked outfits, I felt sadness well up in my throat. I vividly remembered the pressure building up inside me as I tried to get my daughters out the door to meet new neighbors. We had just moved, and I knew no one. I felt so unattractive that day – so far from perfect. And there were my precious girls wanting to wear comfortably worn mismatched shorts. They wanted nothing to do with pretty outfits and neatly secured ponytails. They just wanted to play and be kids. Of course, in true drill sergeant fashion, I made them wear the pristine outfits despite their cries.
I recounted the story to the editor – a story no one had ever heard before – a story I’d tried to forget and almost did.
“Oh this is wonderful. Lots of people will be able to relate to this,” she encouraged.
But, yet, I felt regretful and alone. I thought about that painful memory all day, so much that I felt the urge to apologize to the one I knew probably remembered it too. Although it happened several years ago, I’ve learned it’s never too late to ask for forgiveness.
“I am sorry I used to want things perfect all the time,” I blurted out to my older daughter in the glow of the nightlight at Talk Time.
“Give me an example,” she asked unexpectedly.
“Do you remember how stressed out I would get about wanting things to look a certain way when we left the house? Or how I made such a big deal out of trivial mistakes and mishaps?” I asked, bracing myself for distressing recollections.
“Not really,” she shrugged. “I just remember how you used to lay out my clothes every morning, and I didn’t get to pick. But now you let me wear what I want.” She snuggled closer. “I like it the way it is now.”
“Well, I’m sorry I didn’t realize sooner that being happy matters more than making things look perfect. I’m sorry I didn’t change sooner,” I admitted with regret.
“It’s better to know it now than never know it at all,” she wisely offered.
My child’s profound words were fresh on my mind the next morning as we prepared for school. Her little sister was standing in front of the mirror, parting her hair straight down the middle. She completely ignored the back of her hair and as a result, it resembled an angry cactus.
I could see my older daughter eyeing her sister’s disheveled mess. She reached out her hand to take the brush, but then quickly drew it back without saying a word. My younger daughter, unaware she was being observed, walked out humming to herself happily.
My older daughter looked up at me. I was about to find out just how much my confession the night before had resonated with her. “The old you probably would have fixed her hair, and she probably would’ve cried.” After pausing for a minute she admitted, “I thought about telling her to change it, but then I decided not to say anything. It’s better to just let her be who she is.”
My friends, I am simply the messenger on this journey, and today I have some thoughts for you to consider:
Maybe the words, “I’m sorry,” can be the start of a liberating dialogue your heart’s been yearning to have.
Maybe those you have wronged can be more forgiving than you are to yourself if given the opportunity.
Maybe second chances are not given to you, but rather something you offer to yourself by using new words and new actions.
Maybe who you are now is more important than who your were then.
Whether it’s been five minutes, five months, or five years,
it’s not too late to speak words of remorse,
it’s not too late to offer forgiveness to yourself or those you love,
it’s not too late to be the person you always wanted to be.
Because who you are now is more important than who you were then.
I think that sentence bears repeating:
Who you are now is more important than who you were then.
Just think of the gift you’ll be giving those who are learning how to live by watching you live – not perfectly, but with small, positive steps and daily doses of grace.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rachel Stafford blogs at www.handsfreemama.com.