David, my next-door neighbor, has two young kids aged five and seven. One day he was teaching his seven-year-old son Kelly how to push the lawn mower around the yard. As he was teaching him how to turn the mower around at the end of the lawn, his wife, Jan, called to him to ask a question. As David turned to answer the question, Kelly pushed the lawn mower right through the flower bed at the edge of the lawn--leaving a two-foot wide path leveled to the ground!
When David turned back around and saw what had happened, he began to lose control. David had put a lot of time and effort into making those flower beds the envy of the neighborhood. As he began to raise his voice to his son, Jan walked quickly over to him, put her hand on his shoulder and said,"David, please remember... we're raising children, not flowers!"
Jan reminded me how important it is as a parent to remember our priorities. Kids and their self-esteem are more important than any physical object they might break or destroy. The window pane shattered by a baseball, a lamp knocked over by a careless child, or a plate dropped in the kitchen are already broken. The flowers are already dead. We must remember not to add to the destruction by breaking a child's spirit and deadening his sense of liveliness.
I was buying a sport coat a few weeks ago and Mark Michaels, the owner of the store, and I were discussing parenting. He told me that while he and his wife and seven-year-old daughter were out for dinner, his daughter knocked over her water glass. After the water was cleaned up without any recriminating remarks from her parents, she looked up and said, "You know, I really want to thank you guys for not being like other parents. Most of my friends' parents would have yelled at them and given them a lecture about paying more attention. Thanks for not doing that!"
Once, when I was having dinner with some friends, a similar incident happened. Their five-year-old son knocked over a glass of milk at the dinner table. When they immediately started in on him, I intentionally knocked my glass over, too. When I started to explain how I still knock things over even at the age of 48, the boy started to beam and the parents seemingly got the message and backed off. How easy it is to forget that we are all still learning.
I recently heard a story about a famous research scientist who had made several very important medical breakthroughs. He was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter who asked him why he thought he was able to be so much more creative than the average person.
He responded that, in his opinion, it all came from an experience with his mother that occurred when he was about two years old. He had been trying to remove a bottle of milk from the refrigerator when he lost his grip on the slippery bottle and it fell, spilling its contents all over the kitchen floor--a veritable sea of milk!
When his mother came into the kitchen, instead of yelling at him, giving him a lecture or punishing him, she said, "Robert, what a great and wonderful mess you have made! I have rarely seen such a huge puddle of milk. Well, the damage has already been done. Would you like to get down and play in the milk for a few minutes before we clean it up?"
Indeed, he did. After a few minutes, his mother said,"You know, Robert, whenever you make a mess like this, eventually you have to clean it up and restore everything to its proper order. So, how would you like to do that? We could use a sponge, a towel or a mop. Which do you prefer?" He chose the sponge and together they cleaned up the spilled milk.
His mother then said, "You know, what we have here is a failed experiment in how to effectively carry a big milk bottle with two tiny hands. Let's go out in the back yard and fill the bottle with water and see if you can discover a way to carry it without dropping it." The little boy learned that if he grasped the bottle at the top near lip with both hands, he could carry it without dropping it. What a wonderful lesson!
This renowned scientist then remarked that it was at that moment that he knew he didn't need to be afraid to make mistakes. Instead, he learned that mistakes were just opportunities for learning something new, which is, after all, what scientific experiments are all about. Even if the experiment doesn't work, we usually learn something valuable from it.
Wouldn't it be great if all parents would respond the way. Robert's mother responded to him?
One last story that illustrates the application of this attitude in an adult context was told on the radio several years back. A young woman was driving home from work when she snagged her fender on the brumper of another car. She was in tears as she explained that it was a new car, only a few days from the showroom. How was she over going to explain the damaged car to her husband?
The driver of the other car was sympathetic, but explained that they must note each other's license numbers and registration numbers. As the young woman reached into a large brown envelope to retrieve the documents, a piece of paper fell out. In a heavy masculine scrawl were these words:"In case of accident...remember, honey, it's you I love, not the car!"
Let's remember that our children's spirits are more important than any material things. When we do, self-esteem and love blossom will grow more beautifully than any bed of flowers ever could.