Making mistakes- a golden opportunity

This week I have been reminded of the value of making mistakes.  A friend was telling me about his teenage daughter’s intense desire to create ‘perfect’ art.  She is a talented young lady, though he says that part of her secret in making such lovely drawings was that she traced around other works and then filled them in beautifully.  Now that she is trying to work in freehand she is struggling because she wants to achieve that same “perfection.”

We talked together about how creativity often involves making mistakes.  I have very little knowledge about art, but I know a bit about photography and cooking and craftwork.  I have noticed that sometimes in these disciplines there are ‘happy accidents.’  The lighting might change suddenly, and one shot changes to a completely different photograph.  Or maybe I’ve run out of a particular ingredient so I have to improvise.  Perhaps I added too many eggs or not quite enough sugar.  The results aren’t always a flop, in fact sometimes they’re better than the original.  I am sure the same must go for art.  While my friend’s daughter wants her drawings to be perfect, much of what we consider beauty is in no way perfect, but pleasing nevertheless.

So I’m revisiting an old topic here today– the value of making mistakes as a parent, and allowing our children the freedom make mistakes too.  It seems an old saw to say we learn from our mistakes.  Of course we do.  But I know I’d rather learn from other peoples’ mistakes and not make any myself!  I am hard on myself and want to be the best I can be. Surely there’s nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, if taken too far, expecting the best from ourselves and from our children can have a detrimental effect to our relationships.  My relationship with my own self can suffer.  And of course my children do as I do rather than as I say.  I want to teach my children that it’s ok to make mistakes, and that often our greatest learning is the fruit of those accidents.

When my eldest daughter was in nursery one of her teachers used to say, “it doesn’t matter” whenever there was a spill or an accident.  She said it so much that my child brought the phrase home with her, and on one memorable occasion I spilled dinner all over the floor, and her little squeaky voice chimed in, “It doesn’t matter mummy” and stroked my back with her little soft hand.  At the time of course I wanted to sit down and weep, but that “doesn’t matter” actually helped to bring perspective to a tense situation.  Her empathy helped me so much.  I have tried to adopt the “It doesn’t matter” in my life as far as I’m able, and to pat my own back when times are tough.  Dropping the dinner on the floor turned into an opportunity for me to be kinder to myself and learn a valuable lesson from my child.

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