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Father’s reaction to son’s spilled Slushie is more than just great parenting

Child with Slush Drink

It’s practically a step-by-step template for how we should react to our own mess-ups and failures in life, too.

As much as we complain about the way social media is bringing society down, you have to admit, it can be a treasure trove of the best of humanity too. Today, I’m thinking of the woman who witnessed (and wrote down!) a dad’s response to his grade school aged kid spilling a gigantic, red white and blue Slushie all over the place in a very public Target cafe. It was an appalling mess, and a really embarrassing one, too.

I’m 110 percemt sure I would have at least rolled my eyes and gotten huffy, but the dad didn’t. He said …

Hey, it happens. Let’s go get napkins and I can show you how to clean it up.

Once that was done, he went on to say …

You’re going to be a human being for a long time, and you have such a smart brain that it’s important you learn how to be more aware of what you’re doing. So next time just be sure to pay more attention to your surroundings so accidents like this don’t happen. Accidents like this can be prevented, but it’s still okay if they happen. As long as you take responsibility for your mistakes, the cleanup is a breeze.

Later, it was clear he’d been thinking about it a little more, and he wanted to make one last point.

I know big messes seem overwhelming and you might feel like you can’t do it by yourself, but it’s always okay to ask for help. There is no problem with asking for help when you need it.

I’m sure that Kalynne Marie, who saw the incident and knew it was special enough to record, and the rest of the Target-goers, were relieved they didn’t have to witness a full blown meltdown from the dad, the son, or both. Instead they saw a response that was measured, and merciful. But what the dad said was more than just fantastic parenting. It’s practically a step-by-step template for how we should react to our own mess-ups and failures in life, too.

First, you deal with the problem at hand. If the kid had gotten the life lessons first, nobody would have been impressed. They’d be sitting there wondering if he was ever planning to, you know, do anything about the mess.

Once the problem’s solved, or at least, you’ve taken steps to address it, you’ve cleared out mental space to start beating yourself up about it, right? Oops, wait, maybe that’s not it. No, what I love about this step is that even though it’s the most tempting thing in the world to take your mistake as proof of your incompetency, especially when you know perfectly well the problem could have been avoided, you don’t have to go there. You can remember that “humans make mistakes,” and like it or not, “you’re going to be a human being for a long time.”

But whatever went wrong, you still have to take responsibility for it. We tend to associate admission of responsibility with guilt or regret, but that isn’t necessary. Responsibility just means that if you were part of the problem, you have to be part of the solution. The dad could have probably cleaned up the mess faster and better on his own, but he knew enough to engage his son in the process too.

Finally, you probably never feel as alone as you do when you know you messed up, and it was your own fault, but luckily, one of the best parts about being a human being is that you’re not the only one. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Nobody gets where they are without help — helping each other is what humans do.

I’d want to shake this man’s hand if I ran into him today. He didn’t just model an example of parenting done right, although what he said will remind me to go easier on my own son, for sure. More than that, even, he laid down a surprisingly specific road map for steps any of us can take when one of us dumb human beings makes some dumb mistake. I hope I’ll remember it next time I get overwhelmed, feel like a failure, and want to just quickly walk away from my mess, hoping nobody saw me.

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