The Lego Spaceship my 6-year-old had painstakingly built for the past two days smashed to smithereens on the hardwood. I’m the one who smashed it. When asked to help clear the table, my feisty little boy made some entitled comment, and in a fit of rage I forcefully threw his precious creation – faster than you can say “amygdala.” I quickly forgot what the offending remark was (hangs head in shame), but I’ll never forget the sheer force of my reaction – and the sheer terror on my child’s face.
I’m an advocate for treating children with respect and peace and regulating ourselves. In fact, it’s what I do for a living as a Mindful Parenting Coach. I literally earn my keep by teaching others how to choose presence, peace, and playfulness for their families and avoid manipulation, yelling, and punishments. I teach adults how to stop having tantrums and start enjoying their children.
But, as the aforementioned story aptly illustrates, I do not always manage to do that myself. They say we teach what we most need to learn, right? I’m “exhibit A” for that statement.
I may not remember my son’s words. But I remember my automatic, animalistic, furious reaction – vividly. And as is apparent from him recently bringing it up again – so does he. He stores away my every trespass — the times I grabbed him too tightly, fingernails digging in. The times I scream (so hard that my throat hurts later). The times I used words like “disgusting” or “unbelievable” in reference to him. Ugh. He’ll probably never forget it, and I wouldn’t want him to.
You see, when we clench our teeth and hiss wildly at our children, when we grab them (too tight) and pull them across the room, when we make a face at them that communicates: “Don’t. You. DARE. Or. ELSE.” – we are sometimes struck by the urge to “cover our tracks.”
“Oh, Mommy was just whispering because the baby’s asleep.”
“Oops, I didn’t throw the dish, it just slipped out of my hand.”
“I wasn’t so mad, you’re overreacting. I just didn’t like what you said.”
“I didn’t say you are disgusting, I said that’s disgusting.”
“I didn’t scream, I was just a bit frustrated.”
We adults are masters of illusion: throw some confetti in the air – *razzle dazzle* them – confuse them out of what they know to be true. I feel this urge too; it’s totally natural. Our ego feels stilettos-in-sand levels of discomfort when we’ve done something we know is wrong and our children are watching, learning – and perhaps soon to be parroting back our behaviors.
But when I looked around at the aftermath of my fury — a broken Lego — what echoed in my mind was that, as an adult, I need to own my mistakes.I may not have reacted well to begin with, but here was my opportunity to “buck up, buttercup” and be the adult. Gulp.
Rather than covering my tracks, I want to challenge myself to take the opposite track. It’s far more vulnerable, yes. It’s much harder. And, I believe, much braver.
I want to challenge myself to own my mistakes, as plentiful and pitiful as they may be. To face my children, look them straight in the eye, and authentically, honestly, painfully and brutally share the truth — which is what they felt anyway. Rather than tricking them out of their feelings, and convincing them that the sense they had – that we were totally out of control and had mightily overstepped – is a silly misunderstanding, due to their immature brains we should confirm for them that their intuition is, in fact, spot on.
“Yes, I was completely out of line. I was out of control and I overreacted.”
“You’re right, I should never have done that. I’m ashamed of how I treated you.”
“What I said is inexcusable and I’m going to make every effort to never treat you that way again. I need to be in charge of staying calm, no matter what you do.”
And thanking them.
“Thank you for helping me grow. Thank you for your feedback, it’s helpful. Thank you for being honest with me, you can always tell me how you feel about me – even when it’s painful.”
I know my son feels safe with me, despite my violent outburst. How do I know? Because I’ve asked him.
He’s said clearly: “It’s okay. We all get mad sometimes. I understand. I forgive you, Mum.”
And that — that repair right there — is worth everything. It means I may be sorry for what I’ve done, but I’m not sorry for what happened. Because ultimately it brought us closer, and it was an opportunity to learn humility and humanity, which includes ruptures and repairs.
Whilst I’m embarrassed that I did this, I see it as a blessing and a lesson we’ve all learned from… and the closeness and authenticity of the interactions with my son that followed mean that I wouldn’t take it back, even if I could.
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