You know when you lose your shit on your kids and then you are instantly filled with remorse and regret and wish you could rewind and just start all over again?
I had one of those moments the other morning.
I didn’t really lose my shit.
But I was hard on Number 3. Too hard.
And I said something regrettable. Something I think can be particularly damaging, because I’ve been on the receiving ends of these words, and they stung. A lot.
They stung so much I haven’t ever forgotten them.
Number 3 has set a goal for himself this swim season to qualify for a big meet in Virginia in August. He’s been working really hard. And he had a somewhat disappointing season in the winter because he got really sick before championships and missed two weeks of swimming which is kind of a big deal as far as training goes.
I want so badly for him to qualify for this meet because he deserves it and because a lot of focus and attention has gone to Number 4 in the past six months as far as her swimming success goes, and I think he feels kind of overlooked and underestimated.
So when I woke him up the other morning and he refused to get out of bed, I freaked out a little bit.
Well, internally I completely freaked out.
Externally, I was more composed. But I was still freaking out.
I reminded Number 3 of his goals. I reminded him of what happened last season. I told him this was not the time to skip a swim practice.
He told me he just couldn’t get out of bed. He was in tears.
Internally, silently, I was saying, If he misses this practice, he won’t make Zones,and he will be devastated. The whole season rides on this practice. (All ridiculous thoughts, by the way)
Externally, and out loud, I said, I’m disappointed in you.
Clearly he was already exhausted and struggling. Telling him he was a disappointment didn’t exactly help.
There was no kindness or understanding in my voice. Only judgment and shame.
Understandably, he stayed in bed.
Ugh. The disappointed-in-you thing is the worst.
It’s one of the things I vowed I wouldn’t say to my kids.
It’s not the first parenting vow I’ve broken.
After I took some time to reflect on this, I realized what I was actually feeling.
I wasn’t disappointed in Number 3.
I was concerned. And worried. And panicked.
Number 3 stayed home, and I left for practice with Number 4 about fifteen minutes later.
That was all the time I needed to think about what I had said and realize what I was really feeling and what I had done.
I had made a mistake.
Making mistakes sucks. It doesn’t feel good.
I stopped silently beating myself up after a couple minutes.
Because while this was a mistake, it was also an opportunity.
One of the things that pushes my buttons the most is when my kids take zero responsibility for messing up.
It drives me crazy.
But one of the things we often forget is that this refusal (or inability) to take responsibility for mess ups is a learned behavior.
Our kids are often afraid to acknowledge their mistakes because when they make them, we lose all our compassion and understanding. And we lose it.
We often yell, belittle, humiliate, and shame our kids when they make mistakes.
Who would willingly walk into that fire?
I know I wouldn’t.
Plus, we very often fail to acknowledge our own fuck ups.
As a result our kids rarely have examples of healthy and responsible behaviors when it comes to mistakes.
We can’t really blame them for not wanting to own up to them!
So after a couple minutes of silent reflection in the car, I said to Number 4, “I feel bad about how I handled Number 3 not coming to practice.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Well, I said some things to him I wish I hadn’t said,” I told her.
We talked a little more about it. And I felt a little bit better. I had at least given Number 4 an example of how to acknowledge a mistake.
When I got home, I went right up to Number 3’s room.
I apologized for handling the situation the way I had.
I used every ounce of restraint to not add a “but…” after that.
Not “I’m sorry, but I was worried” or “I’m sorry but I just want you to do well.”
No buts at all.
I told him he’d been working so hard, and I know he’s really trying and pushing himself, that I blew things way out of proportion and forgot what was important, and in the future, I’d trust that he was listening to his body and making the healthiest decision for himself.
And then I gave him a hug and told him I loved him.
And all of a sudden, the mistake had gone from a bad thing, to a pretty good thing!
I think as parents, we are often afraid to acknowledge our mistakes. In doing so, we are afraid our credibility or authority or power is diminished.
But the goal isn’t to control our kids. It’s to guide them in the right direction and provide them with the skills and tools and awareness to be decent, responsible, self-confident, contributing and happy members of society.
And when we don’t model the behavior we hope to develop in our kids, it’s unrealistic to think they will somehow magically learn to do it on their own.
One of the biggest gifts we can give our kids is the gift of knowing it’s okay to be imperfect. That takes so much pressure off of them, and it provides them with the permission to acknowledge a mistake.
Taking ownership of your mistakes really makes you more relatable and more respected.
And that’s what parenting is about. Developing respectful relationships with your kids. Respect that goes both ways.
The next time you mess up, remember the three R’s of recovery from mistakes:
- Recognize the mistake — “I wasn’t listening to you or understanding this morning!”
- Reconcile — “I’m sorry. I apologize.” (NO BUTS!)
- Resolve — “In the future I’ll trust that you know what’s best for your body.”
You will be doing your kids (and yourself) a big favor.
Making mistakes does not make you a bad parent.
But acknowledging them definitely helps to make you a good one.