the mistake of perfection…
So I learned a valuable lesson this weekend – nobody is perfect.
I took my son to an Arena Cross event on Saturday night here in Austin, TX. For those of you who don’t know, Arena Cross is an indoor motorcycle race in the mud. My son is 7 years old, so dirt bikes and mud are a natural fit – almost as much as Lego’s and Star Wars. Since my divorce, finding quality time with my kids has been challenging, and seems to require twice as much effort as it used to. So we were both looking forward to our time together, and had been talking about it for weeks.
The event went as planned; mud, motorcycles, jumps, crashes, screaming and yelling, the whole bit. As we were finding our seats, my son told me that he had brought his wallet and wanted to buy himself something with the money he had been saving from birthdays and Christmas (he had $50 dollars). Never wanting to discourage their independence, I told him I liked his idea but I wanted to help him with figuring out the cost. No sooner did we finish this exchange than the Cotton Candy person walked buy. You can guess what happened next. As the night went on, it was a request for this souvenir and that souvenir – which by the way, are not cheap at an event like this. I was trying hard to find a balance between letting him spend his money, and not having his wallet empty before the night was over. I was sure that half the stuff we bought would be on the floor, under his bed, and forgotten within a week. But still, it was his money, he saved it, and he wanted to spend it, so why not? He bought a few small items and for the rest of the night, was very proud of his purchases. The night ended nicely enough. We stood in line and were able to meet a few of the riders. Even got an autograph.
I was awoken Sunday morning by my son crying, and when I went to investigate, I found him sitting on his bed with his wallet wide open, and a mere $12 dollars remained. Apparently he “forgot” that he had been saving his money for a new $200 dollar Lego contraption, and the souvenirs he bought the night before were no consolation for the monetary setback. I tried to talk him through how nice his things were and how proud of him I was for bringing his wallet and counting out his dollars when needed. Didn’t work though. The more I tried, the more upset he became.
I realized that he also had put me smack dab in the middle of a parenting dilemma. Do I replace the $40 dollars in his wallet, or leave things as they are and let him learn the value of saving money? It’s been 24 hours or so since I met him on his bed, and I spent much of Sunday beating myself up over this, without really finding the answer. Was it right to let him spend his money in the first place? Should I have insisted on paying for the items he wanted? Is he better off knowing that spending his money means he will have less? Is the lesson of saving his money for the long term better than the short term validation or loss? I was looking for the right answer – the answer that a good parent should know – I was trying to be perfect.
My first patient of the morning today was a feisty 16 year old boy who is very challenged, and extremely hard on himself. After a mouthful of self criticism, I said to him “don’t be so hard on yourself. If you don’t like the result, then think about how to make it different next time, and work towards making those changes. Sometimes in life, not being perfect is the best answer.”