Henry Ford is believed to have said: “Sometimes a mistake can be all it takes to make a valuable achievement.” Apparently paradoxical, the statement says a lot about us and what we consider at any given moment to be “a mistake.”
Mistakes can be divided into at least three categories: moral mistakes (from the perspective of Christian ethics, these are violations of the biblical principles for life and behaviour), errors related to human limitations (mistakes without a moral charge, errors inherent in everyday life, coming from lack of information and experience, due to fatigue, lack of attention, etc.), and mistakes which, when later evaluated, prove that we have misinterpreted certain realities.
From a Christian perspective, the only norm that helps us differentiate between these three types of mistakes is the Bible. The Bible confirms that a lie, even if seemingly “innocent” and useful at times, is still worse than taking the wrong exit lane on the freeway or adding the wrong spice to your food.
Unfortunately, life has two constants that we cannot escape: we make mistakes and every mistake has a consequence. But it depends on us how we relate to our mistakes and how curious we are to discover and correct them.
Parents make mistakes too
As parents, we all believe that we want the best for our children—we make extraordinary sacrifices for them, and we often give up our careers or other personal benefits just for them. Yet we sometimes find that we were wrong, that something else was needed and that, if we could do it all over again, we would do it differently.
Perhaps the point from which we must start in the education of our children, and one of the important lessons to share with them, is that we are not the perfect parents but the parents that God considered the most suitable for them. We all need to learn to discover our mistakes, to take responsibility for them, and overcome them. Alienation often comes in those families where each is concerned more with the faults of the other than with their own faults, where the “speck of sawdust” in the other’s eye is much greater than the “plank” in their own eye.
Being a parent therefore means, among many other things, also making mistakes, more or less serious, with greater or lesser consequences, but painfully constant and frequent. The way we relate to our parents’ mistakes can be a way for our children to learn how to relate to our mistakes and maybe even their own. We should never forget that the family model we offer is the only one they will get to know in detail until they start their own family.
That is precisely why children should have clear life principles, objective criteria based on which they can distinguish what is good from what is bad, but also a lot of love and grace. However, love and grace, together with the right principles, must first be observed in the lives of their parents.
Why do parents make mistakes?
This is not a simple question. Many studies and articles talk about the most common mistakes of parents. Some stop at seven, others at twelve, others at thirty. (Probably, if we asked our children to write them down, they would reach a hundred.) But there is very little information about the causes of these mistakes. We need to know the cause, not to excuse certain wrong choices, but to understand the struggle of the other, to love more, and to help them, if possible, to overcome this limitation.
Not everything that seems to be a mistake is actually a mistake. We need to distinguish between moral wrongs and situations where we have different perspectives on certain choices. For instance, to a child, it may seem like a mistake that a parent does not allow them to go clubbing with their friends, but later, reevaluating their parents’ choice, they will find that it was indeed a wise decision.
Perhaps the first step in understanding the other is to grant them the presumption of innocence. Not all the things others do that do not suit or benefit us are mistakes. Not all other people’s choices that do not overlap with ours are errors of perspective or roads leading nowhere. The beauty of life lies precisely in the multitude of ways in which God directs people’s destinies, drawing them to Himself and helping them to be a blessing to others.
Parents err because they have an incomplete understanding of what love, protection, and freedom mean. We must admit that good intentions are not synonymous with love. Certain life experiences or the way they were brought up—perhaps the lack of care and attention they received from their parents, maybe the movies they watched, or the books they read—cause some parents to have a misconception of what love, protection, and freedom mean. There is no manual on how to love, even if in the end life has a lot to do with just that.
We believe that our perspective is the correct one, but we often don’t take the time to examine the perspective of others or try to understand them. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude is not love. We often think that the heart knows what, when, and how to love, but this is just an illusion, sometimes with extremely painful consequences. The Bible is very clear about this. Love is more than a feeling; it is a principle that can be learned and practised.
We don’t have to guess what love is like. The Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and that “love is the fulfilment of the law” (Romans 13:10). It is “patient, [and it] is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
As for freedom, the Bible also says that it comes from knowing the truth (John 8:32). If our views about love and freedom are correct, this makes us tolerant of others and more able to convince them to practise these virtues. But we have to accept that we won’t be able to convince everyone or change most of them. So, all we have left is to love them as they are.
Parents err because they have their limitations. It is amazing that God loves us all, even though He is fully aware of all our faults. It is not our job to judge others, not even those we know best. We all have our own burdens to carry, which others cannot carry for us no matter how much they love us. We don’t know our parents’ struggles, we don’t know their souls’ battles, the emotions they live with intensity, even if sometimes we can catch a glimpse of them.
We should cultivate the daily habit of not judging our loved ones, even if it seems to us that we would be better if we were in their place. It is enough to be good as ourselves. Instead of issuing verdicts, we could try to support them in their struggles, encourage them, and speak nicely to them. We have so little time together that it’s not worth wasting it on something that doesn’t help.
Parents make mistakes because they want to. It may seem hard to understand, but we have to accept that some people do not want to behave differently than they think is best. They can never accept that others are different, that they can choose differently, or think from a different perspective. We don’t always know why, but that’s what they choose. Still, if God respects our freedom to make wrong decisions, all the more must we, who are wrong, accept the decisions of others.
This does not mean that we have to accept violent behaviour or trade our values that we know are good for those that are against our principles, but love means allowing the other person the freedom to say yes or no. Maybe this means assuming some consequences, maybe in some situations we have to impose certain boundaries on our relationships, but we must never move away from “kindness and faithfulness” (Proverbs 3:3).
Many of us sometimes end up saying, like the prophet Elijah, “I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4). Until then, let’s not forget that we were taught by the Lord Jesus to pray like this: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). To forgive is to practise love and freedom, which, let’s face it, sometimes changes others—and always makes us freer and happier.
From this perspective, mistakes can sometimes be all we need for success.
Adrian Neagu believes that mistakes in the relationship between parents and children can bring us closer instead of separating us.