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.
I’m very fond of saying that my children teach us how to parent them. It’s true! Those of us with more than two children know that what may have worked for the first child does not always work for the second child. For one, the first is and was most likely “the guinea pig.” Oh sure, we thought we knew what to expect when we were expecting but nothing prepares you for the conflicting emotional and intellectual feelings you will have with a real life child. Which is why if you approach the parent-child dynamic as a relationship you’ll easily learn and be able to respect the individual requirements of each child. And the apologies will roll of the tongue like nobody’s business!
Things you might consider apologizing for:
Rushing your children. You know how Susie likes to sleep in on school days but is always the first one up on the weekend? Try getting her to bed earlier, so that she can wake up earlier, and not freak out on you because “she’s tired.” This is a huge one in our household and I’m notoriously cranky in the morning because I find my children “slow.” Only they are not slow, they are children going at “child’s pace” because they are still learning how to incorporate multiple tasks into a short time frame.
Raising your voice, losing your cool. This is probably my number one. And I am proud to say that after seven years of parenting I’m much more even-tempered now. Why? Because my girls teach me patience! In the very beginning I’d rationalize my need to have more patience by telling myself, “Okay, so I’ve been on the planet forever, and my girls “just arrived,” so surely it will take some time for them to learn how to manage their behavior. To be clear, I am no paragon of patience, and like my children, I too am still learning how to manage my own behaviors!
Not giving them sufficient information. This is huge! So many tantrums, meltdowns and misunderstandings can be diverted if we “simply” communicate with our children. Just because we tell them something, it doesn’t meant that they’re immediately going to be on board. If we start by respecting them enough to let them have an active voice in the family dynamic, it’ll hopefully empower them to make good choices along the way.
I’m a firm believer in talking about what’s happening and what your expectations are. This works for me because I talk a lot. And I’ve basically set a precedent. Which means my girls are endless chatterboxes. Sometimes I’ll tell them that I get tired of hearing the sound of my own voice. Of course they think this is the funniest thing in the world. But it’s true. They payoff is that once I’ve declared that I am through talking, I‘m happy to I leave them to their own devices to figure things out. We also have “rules” for communication in that we talk about monitoring our tone of voice and ensuring that we show respect for the person talking. And we discuss what we expect from our listeners.
Seriously, ask your children what they think you could do differently as a parent and what they think could lessen the friction in your home. I find that once you shift some of the heavy family management issues that drain you emotionally you’ll find that your recovery from certain dramas will be lessened.
What are some of the unconventional things you do in your home to create a loving family dynamic?