The other day Andrew was not doing what I asked him to do. He was repeatedly getting distracted from his task. I felt my frustration intensify with each reminder. By the fourth reminder I yelled, “Andrew – DO IT NOW!” As soon as the words flew out of my mouth I observed his little face crumple. His eyes teared up. I felt horrible.
My heart sank. My irritation took a back seat to sadness and shame as I realized my intense reaction hurt my son. He usually listens well. He regularly follows through when I ask him to do something. Andrew has a sweet and tender spirit. Usually a little correction goes a long way with him. I just overwhelmed and scared him. Ugh; I felt so bad.
Once I noticed his reaction, I sat down on the floor next to him. Looking into his eyes, I invited him onto my lap. He tearfully agreed. I held him and apologized for yelling at him. I validated his big feelings and after a few moments he calmed down. We started smiling together. After returning to joy I pointed out that we both had some things to work on for better interactions in the future. I mentioned how I needed to calm myself before talking to him when I feel angry and upset. I should not yell in my frustration. His job in all of this is to use his listening ears and obey the first time I ask him to do something. We agreed we could both do better with practice.
I look back on this interaction and I can see my relational brain had taken a hiatus during my mounting upset. I did not use Skill 2 to self-quiet or Skill 12 to remain my relational self during upset. As parents, we are not going to do things perfectly. We can’t expect to get it right every time. The good news is we have the opportunity to repair with our children once we realize the areas we could do things better. It is good to acknowledge we were wrong and it is helpful to tell our sons and daughters how we would like to handle things differently next time. This time of connection is both healing and redemptive.
In this instance I caught my mistake right away. Thankfully, I was able to attune with Andrew in his distress – that I had caused. Admittedly, there are times when seeing my child’s response to my over-the-top reaction doesn’t stop me in my tracks. There are times when my son’s reaction increases my anger. Those are the times there is a delay before I recognize the need for repair and we can return to joy together. Thankfully those repairs still count!
There are many days I have parenting fails and wish I was doing a better job. Even though I am working on the 19 skills and using relational skills in my parenting, I still mess up. I am so thankful that the goal is not to be the “perfect parent” since that goal is unattainable. The more manageable goal is to get really good at repairing when things go wrong.
I hope you give yourself grace this week when, not if, you make mistakes. May God guide your focus and energy to repair when things go wrong. I am now convinced we parents should be the best repairers in the entire world because we get so much practice each day.