If you’ve been reading here recently, you know I have started a series admitting some of the parenting mistakes I regret. My hope is to encourage you in your parenting journey and give you hope that you can recover from your mistakes.
One of the mistakes I made, in which I had only the best intentions, was isolating my children until I could see that one of them was actually depressed about having no friends.
Now, I don’t mean that she was sad one day about all the girls at church not including her in a slumber party.
I mean that for a period of 4-5 years there were very few kids at church besides our kids, and I did not go out of my way to invite those kids to interact with my own kids.
You see, I had read and believed that brothers and sisters could and should be best friends. And I still do honestly believe that they really can and should be the best of friends.
The problem was that I interpreted this to mean that they did not need any other friends.
And my sensitive daughter began to feel like her brother and sisters liked her and spent time with her because they didn’t have any other choice. They had to be her friend. They lived with her. They didn’t choose to be her friend. And she didn’t have anyone in her life who liked her because they simply wanted to spend time with her.
One day she came to me in tears because she had no friends. None. Zero. And when I comforted her, I couldn’t argue with that fact. When I tried to think of who she could count as a friend, I couldn’t come up with a single one.
When she confided to me that she was having severe anxiety issues, trouble sleeping, frequent stomach aches, grinding her teeth at night, etc. all because she wondered if she was worthy to have people like her, I was heartbroken!
What had I done???
I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed her anxiety issues before she brought it to my attention, and I was so sad that she felt that there was no one in the world who wanted to spend time with her by their own choice. And all this happened because I hadn’t seen the value of including outside people in her life.
I immediately set about figuring out how I could correct the mistake I had made. I invited friends over, signed her up for sports, and encouraged her to participate in youth group activities. I also asked her to forgive me for making such a hurtful mistake.
It wasn’t as easy as that though, since her self esteem was very low about how valuable she was as a friend. It took a couple of years for her to gain the confidence to feel like she was valued as a person to those outside her family.
The lesson I learned from this was huge for me. My children needed to know and experience that they are liked by those who are not required to be nice to them. They needed to know they are liked simply because they are fun to be around. And for us this needed to come from outside the family.
Now, I’m not saying every family should automatically take the steps I did and start signing your children up for more activities. (That could cause as much stress as no activities.) I’m saying pay attention to each child’s needs. Notice signs of stress and depression. Ask questions.
What is right for our family may not be right for your family. What is right for one child may not be right for every child.
But if you find that a child is suffering needlessly because of a parenting mistake on your part, ask them to forgive your and change your course.
My hope in sharing this story is to warn anyone else from making this same mistake. Your parenting journey will not be mistake-free, but we can learn from our mistakes and correct them to be better parents than we were before.