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karen allen

These Brownies Taught Me a Great Lesson about Happy Mistakes

Updated: Nov 6, 2022



Being a parent will teach you humbling lessons.


A recent masterclass from my son started with a pan of brownies and ended with a reminder of how we can help kids develop a growth mindset and how important it is to model that growth mindset in our parenting.


This is how it went down…


A few weeks ago, my eleven-year-old son asked me if we could make brownies. Now, let me let you in on a little secret about me—baked goods are kind of my love language. It would’ve been really easy for me to take charge here and just let him be my helper. I mean, I could make a pan of brownies in my sleep!


But I also know how important it is to empower him to learn and stretch and try things on his own. He’s a cautious kid. He wants to get things “just right,” and he doesn’t like to make mistakes. As a mindset coach, someone who helps people reduce perfectionism and embrace growth, I naturally want to help him normalize making mistakes and focus on learning.


So when he asked me about making brownies, I saw it as an opportunity for him to take on something we’ve done together a million times and try doing it on his own.


With his chest puffed out he confidently walked to the pantry, pulled out a bag of brownie mix, and then turned to me.


“Mom, how do I make this?”


I resisted the urge to step in and take over. I knew he could do this.


“What do the instructions say, bud? Look on the back of the box.”


Anyone who’s ever used a pre-made mix knows, those instructions aren’t always straightforward because there are several options. You’ve got instructions for fudgy brownies and cake-like brownies and sometimes even an extra-fancy recipe for marshmallow-swirl brownies or cheesecake brownies. You’ve got instructions based on the size of your pan and even whether it’s made of glass versus metal.


It can be challenging to wade through all of the options. But it’s also an important part of our development—we have to learn to sort through all of the information and focus on the details we need.


So I reminded him that he wanted to make the fudge brownies, that he needed to pay attention to the steps for that recipe, and then I turned my attention back to the book I was reading nearby and let him take over.


He looked through the kitchen cabinets to find all of the tools he’d need. Then I heard him talking himself through the list of ingredients—oil, water, eggs.


I stayed close and checked in every once in a while to make sure he was reading the directions, not just guessing.


“How much oil do you need?”


He looked at the box. “Two-thirds.”


“Do you know how many eggs you need?”


He looked at the box again. “Yes, one egg.”


He measured the water and poured it into the bowl. Then measured the oil and dropped it in with the water. As he cracked the egg, I realized he’d said two-thirds…and it hit me.


He’d been following the wrong recipe.


I’ll admit that what came up for me in that moment was how frustrated I feel when my son doesn’t follow directions. And in the moment, my mind focused on that thought pattern: “We’ve had this conversation a million times.”


So I said to him in a stern voice, “Bud, this is the wrong recipe. This is for cake. This is why I talk to you about following directions.”


He immediately wanted to fix his mistake. His solution, which I can smile about now, was that we could take out the eggs, oil, and water and start again. I explained to him why that wouldn’t work.


In that moment, I watched my son’s shoulders drop.


He put his elbows on the counter and held his head in his hands.


I reassured him that he didn’t need to be upset, that this was just a good reminder that you have to pay attention when you’re reading directions. You look at everything and then decide which is the right way to move forward.


I could tell he was still down, but this was my chance to model resilience for him.

“You know what, it’s okay,” I said. “Let’s just finish whipping this together. We’ve got our batter. What do we need to do next?”


He got out the cooking spray, poured the batter into the pan, and put the dish in the oven. In other words, we keep things moving forward.


Forty minutes later, we pulled out the brownies. And you know what?


They were the best brownies I’ve ever tasted. And everyone in the house agreed!


Perfect cake-brownie texture. Literally amazing.


And then, with a warm delicious brownie melting in my mouth, I had a moment of feeling like a terrible mom.


Because even though I didn’t raise my voice, even though I didn’t get angry, I knew my tone had been unnecessary. I’d been trying to help him see that he could do something challenging on his own and that making mistakes was just a chance to learn. But my initial reaction didn’t reflect that.


Just like he couldn’t take the oil and water out of the batter, I couldn’t go back in time to change my response in the moment. But I could model what it looked like to move forward and grow from it.


So after I’d had a chance to reflect (and eat some brownies, obviously), I said to him, “You know, whenever we cook, sometimes we mismeasure. Sometimes we make mistakes. And you know what? Sometimes I don’t follow directions either, and sometimes that’s how you find the best recipe.” I explained that my frustrations came from repeating our conversations about not following directions.


And then I told him, “I’m sorry my tone was so stern. These were some amazing brownies that you just made.”


In that moment, there was a lesson for both of us. I was trying to teach him, but the universe gave me a gentle reminder that I don’t have all the answers either.


I wanted him to get the chance to flex his growth mindset by taking on a challenge. But when he made a mistake, I got stuck on a different lesson—reminding him how important it is to follow directions.


Don’t get me wrong, that’s an important lesson, and this was a great opportunity to reinforce it. But if I’d stopped and taken a beat before my emotions took over, I know I could’ve shifted my approach and found a way to give him that same reminder through the lens of growth.


When I realized he’d made a mistake, I could’ve said (in a lighter way) , “You know what, bud? It’s okay. We all make mistakes. Let’s just keep going, and let’s see how it all turns out!”

Then as we shared that yummy plate of brownies (no, but for real, we’re talking the best brownies!), I could’ve reminded him about why it’s so important to pay attention to directions—because when we don’t, sometimes the results are amazing, like his brownies, but that’s not always the case.


I could’ve offered that lesson in a moment when he was riding high on his success, when he could hear it without it hurting his heart. It would’ve been the same message, just delivered in a way that focused on the learning rather than the mistake.


So while there was a lesson for him in that experience, I’m also taking away a lesson for myself. It’s important to teach your kids a growth mindset, but it’s just as important to parent with a growth mindset.


I needed a reminder that, as his mom, sometimes I’m going to follow the wrong recipe. And when I do, the next right step is to model what growth looks like—acknowledge my mistakes and look for the lesson.


In fact, we’ve started reframing these moments by using a new term in our family: “happy mistakes.


Embracing those happy mistakes is how you create a family unit that’s a safe space for learning, where you can be human and so can they. Where everyone knows that it’s okay not to be perfect and that making mistakes along the way is how we learn.


Where we teach each other lessons. Where we grow together and become better together.


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If you still love a good read, welcome to my blog. My hope is that every article will give you at least one tid-bit to help you shape your life in the most beautiful way possible. 😊 WELCOME!

Hi, I'm Karen! 

Hi, I'm Karen.

I've made it my life's work to teach as many people as possible about synergistic trifecta of human potential and transformation: mindfulness, positive psychology, and neuroplasticity.

 

This fusion creates a holistic approach to personal growth, well-being, and resilience, empowering you to thrive, navigate life's complexities with grace, and tap into your fullest potential.


​​I've worked with companies such as Nissan, Golf Channel, Google, Universal Orlando Parks & Resorts, LG and many more. 

Whether I'm teaching from stage, in a conference room, or via Zoom, my #1 mission is to help as many people as possible tap into the power of their mindset and start living more fully. Because when you become better, you make the people around you better, and that's how you make the world a little better, too. 🌱 #BetterTogether

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