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.