Episode 16: When We Lose It. . . Is It Game Over?
Today we're going to look at why that is and what we can do when we make huge and small parenting mistakes. Let me clarify what I mean by a parenting mistake before we get going. I don't know if you guys have a parenting rulebook, I am not aware of one. So it's not about a set of rules. We know we've made a mistake when our gut tells us so, and the more mindfulness we practice the more clearly we can see this in our interactions with our children.
Life can pile up fast and turn into a moment of mayhem. We can lose our temper and behave in ways towards our children we feel ashamed about later or even in the moment. Is it too late to use mindful parenting at that point? Did we blow it? No. So what can we do? Well depending on who we are, who our child is and how old they are we have choices. If this interaction really hurts your heart I would encourage you to not remain silent but speak up. Ideally, this will allow your child to reconnect with you and also express how they may be feeling about what happened. "Oh, we can talk about this? Good because I was scared, sad or really mad at you mom!"
By reaching out to our child in a developmentally appropriate way we can model the important skill of repairing ruptures in our relationships. This is something everyone in any intimate or long-term relationship needs to know how to do because we are not perfect and these ruptures will occur. There are three key things to focus on:
1. Acknowledge that your actions were not okay. Remember that modeling is how our children learn, if you treated them in a way they would get in trouble for treating a sibling or friend, their trust in you and social norms degrade unless this hypocrisy is acknowledged. Also, we are teaching our child about how they should be treated, if you don't want them putting up with this kind of behavior from others don't make them put up with it from you. Our kids want to connect with us so much that they will begin to create a narrative about these interactions where they are the bad guy and that they deserve this treatment. By acknowledging that you were feeling upset, frustrated, etc and that your behavior of being short, unkind or yelling was not okay, you do not undo the interaction but you do something much more powerful- you free them from this narrative.
2. Check in on how your child is feeling. If they don't want to share, respect that. They may be a little shocked at your new response and will have to see you do this a couple of times before they can believe you are not angry with them and really want to know how they are doing. Or they may be more than ready to tell you how upset they are- If they want to call you a big meanie remind them you don't like being called names but you understand how you acted mean and hurt their feelings
3. Apologize. This helps model for your child how to do this thing that holds the civility of our society together yet is so hard to actually do.
This can all be done in less than a minute, it does not have to be a sit-down family meeting. It could sound like this: I should not have yelled like that, I'm sorry. You look pretty upset, how are you feeling? And before you begin this process, take some deep breathes and connect with your true self and your compassion. Make sure to give your self this moment so that you don't start the whole cycle over again when a hurt child calls you a big meanie.
For those of you worried this sounds too soft or may encourage the negative behavior you were frustrated with, to begin with, I have a question: Have you ever felt so guilty or frustrated with yourself after an interaction like this that you say, "Fine! Continue to jump on the couch or let the muddy dog in or have another popsicle or go out with the friend I think is a bad influence!" That encourages them to try the same thing again next time. Acknowledging and repairing your behavior will not. And it will be easier for you to say no or redirect to another activity from this calmer and connected space.
Another intervention you can add is to share in developmentally appropriate terms, why you "lost it." This helps your child learn that you are a real person, with feelings! You are modeling how to be aware of your feelings. Maybe your self-care was back burnered that day or week. You can make this connection even for toddlers, "I'm too hungry or sleepy and now I'm grouchy." Or older children, "I took my stress from work out on you, that's not fair, I need to get to the gym or get to bed early tonight, or talk to my boss etc."
Beyond modeling self-awareness, this information is so helpful because it allows your child to understand that they are not the reason you are upset. Last Friday while you and your spouse tried your new favorite wine you thought it was funny watching the kids take turns jumping off the couch. They were playing together so well and you guys were so happy it was Friday. Wednesday morning, all your clean clothes are folded on this same couch and you take it as an attempt of personal and professional sabotage that your child is climbing on the couch and jumping off. You lose it. They are beyond confused. Last time they did this, they received lots of warm attention. This is not a lecture on consistency but a reminder that even the brightest kids just do not see the world through the eyes of a busy parent and they are most definitely not out to get you.
These situations pop up constantly throughout our busy weeks. Even the most mindful parent becomes overwhelmed. You will have so many opportunities to practice this. And the hugest benefit this exercise is maintaining your status as a trusted caregiver. Trust is like a piggy bank. We are constantly earning or losing it in our relationships. By repairing with your child after some less than stellar parenting, it's a way to put some change back in your relationship's account. This will help your child feel connected to you, learn about how feelings affect behavior and stabilize their own self-compassion and esteem.
And of course, when you get a moment to do some reflecting it's useful to think how you got there, to decrease the likelihood you will carelessly travel down the path again. Check in on your own Nourishment. Are you getting what you need as far as sleep, time to prep food you like, time in the outdoors or help and support from loved ones? Connection. Is your tribe draining more than fueling you right now? How can you take a step back or draw a different boundary line? Inspiration. What are you feeling passionate or excited about lately? Have you had time to read the new book from your favorite author? Or try that new restaurant? Our self-care transforms our parenting along with all of our other relationships, and when we see that connection clearly in can give us the push we need to put ourselves first.