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March 27, 2013
Raising the Rising Generation
by Emily S. Jorgensen

Today my nearly-5-year-old son made a rather large mistake. At least, it was pretty big for his age. Tasked with the chore of taking a few glass jars full of canned fruit down the stairs to the pantry, he decided that it would be much easier to simply let the jars slide down the carpeted steps instead of actually carrying them.

He learned the hard way that glass jars break when they slide down a flight of stairs. Glass shards, fruit pieces, and the syrupy juice went everywhere. To top it off, the majority of the spill happened right in the path to my studio where students would be coming in a mere thirty minutes.

Never have I wished more for a Shop-Vac as I did in that moment.

As soon as he saw the consequences of his poor decision, he immediately started chanting, “I’m sorry, Mommy! I’m sorry, Mommy!”

In that moment I had a choice. It is the choice all parents are confronted with several times throughout their children’s path to adulthood.

To be more accurate, I had several choices to make, all in rapid succession. How do I react? What words do I use, what tone of voice? What will I do with the anger or frustration I feel about this mess? What can I do to help my son learn from this experience? What am I going to care about most, the mess or the clean-up?

These are the types of moments that either teach our children resiliency, or teach them fear.

The Ensign recently published a fabulous article entitled, “Raising Resilient Children,” by Lyle J. Burrup (Ensign March 2013, pg 12). In it, the author, who has worked as a counselor at the MTC in Provo, talks about how today’s entering missionary struggles with resiliency. Resiliency in this context refers to a person’s ability to bounce back from adversity or mistakes.

Not having experienced failure in a meaningful way before, Burrup writes that many missionaries have to grapple with feelings of inadequacy and don’t know how to handle the new situations a mission is requiring of them.

And yet, many parents erroneously think that the path to producing a successful adult from the child they were given is to help them avoid as many mistakes as possible.

If my reaction to my son’s misjudgment is a lecture and general grumpiness because this is so darn inconvenient to me — “How could you do this to me? What were you thinking? That was not smart. I can’t trust you to do these kinds of jobs, can I? ”— then what will he hear?

He will hear: Avoid mistakes at all cost. If you make a mistake, you are a failure. The only way to succeed is to avoid messing up.

Indeed, in church we often talk about how much easier it is to never give in to the temptation, to never break a commandment in the first place, than it is to repent later. And of course, this is true.

However, it has been my experience that people who believe they have never really had cause to repent in a soul-sorrowing way are pretty insufferable.

I would much rather be in the company of someone who has made enough mistakes that they don’t judge others for their mistakes and they truly understand the gift of the atonement on a personal level.

In the case of the broken jars of fruit, I want my son to hear: You made a mistake. Now you must fix it. If you do your best to fix it, you have succeeded.

For him to learn this lesson, I have to bite my tongue. I don’t get to give voice to my frustration and general frazzled feelings. Who would I be doing that for anyway? For me, of course. Oh, it is easy to delude myself into thinking my lecture will teach him something.

But no. For his benefit, I must give specific, calm instructions on what must be done to fix his mistake.

In this case, since the mess involved broken glass and he is only 4, that meant he had to play with his little sister and keep her happy while I cleaned up the dangerous bits. That was pretty tough. She really wanted Mommy at the moment.

He then had to use about a half a roll of paper towels to sop up the liquid from the carpet. He had to go to the store with Daddy that night to buy replacement jars (he hates shopping, and has little grasp of money, so this seemed like the best way for him to make amends for the loss his carelessness caused.)

It was a good twenty minutes after the crash that I trusted myself to really talk to him. I was calm enough by then to sit him on my lap, tell him I loved him, discuss the mistake and what he learned, and tell him I was happy he learned not to do this again.

I wish I had the self-control to do that immediately. But I don’t. All I can do right now is not give in to the temptation to lecture, to talk down, to brush away his apology in the moment of transgression.

I hope it is enough. I hope the self-control I can muster is enough to teach him that mistakes are OK. In fact, they were part of the plan from day one. Literally. Before this world was created, a Savior was chosen for this very reason — so my son and I could break glass, break commandments, and break hearts, and still live with our Father again.

We parents, teachers, and leaders really hold the key to whether or not our youth learn resiliency. If our attitude about mistakes is aligned with the gospel of Jesus Christ, then we won’t think any less of the young man who admits a mistake or the young woman who gives in to temptation. We will love them anyway, and rejoice with them as they fix their mistakes. Then we all will have succeeded.

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