• Mon, Mar 5 2012

Sorry Kids, Moms Make Mistakes Too

The last few years of parenting my girls, aged 4 and 7, has been nothing short of eye-opening. Like you, I’ve been immersed in the minutiae of other parents’ day-to-day lives through the lens of moms and dads on the internet. I’ve also heeded much of what the wide variety of child experts and child advocates have suggested, but nothing has taught me more about myself and my “parenting style” than those crazy moments in which my parenting bubble has burst and I have found myself faced with a situation in which I’ve had to apologize to my children.

Indeed, Mother Guilt, Mother Shame, judgments and feelings of inadequacy all aside, I’m still humble enough to tell my girls that “sometimes Mommy screws up.” Which, on a larger scale, alerts them to the fact that sometimes adults who are not their parents can and often do screw up, too.

In our house, we talk a lot about “owning our behavior” and “managing our emotions.” Loosely translated, this means that each of us is responsible for how we act and react at any given moment, in any given situation. In other words, nobody can “make” us feel or do or say or think anything we do not want to feel or do or say or think.

I think these are essential self-esteem builders because it means that as individuals, each of us plays an integral role in how others perceive us, which informs the way they treat us. For example, by teaching my girls that they have the power to establish their own personal boundaries from the moment they open their mouths, it could potentially guard against future abuses and insults. If they can communicate what those boundaries are, and learn to cultivate the types of responses that demonstrate to others that they are not willing to compromise their personal values for the sake of argument, I’m confident that they’ll be able to stand tall and be proud of their accomplishments.

Which brings me back to why my husband and I apologize to our girls. For one, it’s incredibly liberating to not have to be right all the time. Remember those days when parents ruled households with an iron fist and children were encouraged to be seen — when it was convenient for parents — and not heard? Remember when it was totally okay to hit your children and this practice was enforced and cheer-leaded by many a so-called parenting expert? Remember when, as children, we were discouraged from talking back? Yeah, me too, and I’m glad that my perspective has shifted to a place where I have learned that there are much more productive ways to deal with those frustrating parenting moments than coercing my children to stuff their emotions and feelings, which does nothing more than induce shame and silencing.

My husband and I apologize to our children because it strengthens our familial bond and creates an atmosphere of trust. When you start to view parenting as a relationship and not a hierarchical business structure with you at the helm and your children as employees, things change. The dynamic changes and so much for the better. No matter how you slice it, the parent-child model is borne out of imbalance for the simple reason that children cannot take care of themselves. But they can and eventually do once they are taught the fundamentals of survival and self-sufficiency from that imbalanced model.

You can reach this post's author, Bolaji Williams, on twitter.
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  • Frances

    You make a ton of great points here. I definitely think it’s healthy to treat your children like the small people they are and give them age appropriate honestly.

    • xobolaji

      thank you! we’re totally working on it. i never feel like i have all the answers, nor do i wish to. so far so good!

  • Katie

    I, too, came from a hierarchical-way of “running” a family. My mother was very, VERY strict – and anytime I questioned anything – no matter how innocent – I was disciplined (both with a punishment and slappings). I always thought, “When I have kids, I am going to treat them very differently..”

    I have a 5 1/2 year old boy and a 2 1/2 year old girl. My son – i.e., “the practice kid” – has bore the brunt of my frustrations. Luckily, I am painfully aware of my reactions to things he has said/done – and, like a human being who makes mistakes, I go into his room and apologize to him. I tell him I was wrong. I tell him my behavior is uncalled for & I will work on it. He gives me a hug, tells me how much he loves me, and its done.

    You’re absolutely right – it’s liberating to have that relationship with your kids. It turns the dynamic from a dictatorship to a democracy – as a family, we’re a team. We rise together, we fall together, we make mistakes, we own up to them, we love each other more than anything.

    Great article.

    • xobolaji

      thank you! i love your comment. i always feel like if we have the opportunity to spare each other from having bad feelings then we should try and do that. at the same time, it doesn’t serve anyone to live in our little bubbles of happiness when we will at some point feel hurt or wronged. it’s all in how we deal, yes?

      my mom used to say, “i don’t have to explain myself to you,” and it drove me nuts. so i would question her and i’d get the same response. i found this so frustrating because as a person who likes to know why, i was never completely satisfied with being told that there was no explanation. i’ve done the whole, “because i said so” thing to my eldest, and i know how infuriating it is to be told that. so i try and do things differently. still, i’m no saint, but i’m happy to say that my cranky mommy moments are much more infrequent now.

  • LiteBrite

    “Raising your voice, losing your cool. This is probably my number one.”

    Me too, especially in the morning when I’m rushing him. (See the first thing to consider apologizing for.) My son is a notorious dawdler, and I typically lose it when he’s taking his sweet time putting his boots on, getting his coat, or, worse, telling me that he’s “not ready yet.” Mornings are usually a battle, and the problem is that most of the time it’s MY fault that we’re rushing.

    The one unconventional thing that comes to mind is giving our son a choice in what he wants to eat for dinner. He is very picky, so what we’ve started doing is giving him a choice in one thing that we know he’ll eat as long as we give him other things that he should have. For example, he’ll usually choose “hot dogs” as something for dinner but then he also has to have a vegetable/fruit and another side dish like potatoes. It helps keep dinner-time stress to a minimum while having the added benefit of getting the kid to eat something that’s good for him.

    • xobolaji

      choice is key! i learned that from my older sis earlier on. prior to having my own children i couldn’t imagine why anyone would give a child a choice. i just assumed that they couldn’t make decisions about their own well-being but they can and absolutely will if you give them the opportunity.

  • Rebecca

    Ugh, my husband and I butt heads about “not giving them sufficient information” pretty much every time we’re together. For instance, every time we go to the mall we stop at mrs.field’s and everyone gets a cookie. But on this particular day I had already made cookies at home. So I took my son in the stroller on the elevator and he took my daughter for a ride on the escalator which took them right by the cookie stand. I saw it coming a mike away. When I stepped off the elevator my daughter was in spitting hissing hysterics and my husband had her thrown over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Then I got to hear all the way out of the mall how ridiculous it was that she was behaving so outrageously (obviously my fault since I spend the most time with them). I finally just said- look, I’m sorry, but she doesn’t throw tantrums like that with me. If you had taken two seconds to explain why we weren’t getting cookies today it wouldn’t have happened. He generally respects my discipline strategies and at least attempts time outs, though it took awhile to get him on my side of the fence. I’m hoping he’ll see how well explaining things works and pick up the habit himself. Not to say I’m perfect by any means. I lose my cool fairly regularly, but I always try to apologize or crack a funny joke about “uh-oh, mommy lost it! I must need a time out” the kids think it’s hilarious and it teaches them to step back and take a deep breath;)

    • xobolaji

      i hear you! all of this is pretty much trial and error. sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but for sure consistency is key. and it totally depends on your frame of mind at the time.

      the biggest eye opener for me was learning that i had to constantly repeat myself to my girls. you think that they would eventually get it, but they don’t–at least not right away.

      having your own frame of mind and your own point of reference is one thing, but being asked to appreciate someone else’s frame of mind and point of reference is quite another. this is how i *know* that in hindsight it makes no sense to lose my cool for things my children are learning how to do because part of being a child is learning to grow up.