One of the greatest challenges of child-rearing is “getting it right”. While the goal of raising happy, healthy children absent any blunders or mistakes is a noble one, it sadly is not realistic. The truth is, parents frequently fall short of the parental ideal depicted in 1950’s sitcom reruns. Life is complicated, and its pressures often lead us in directions that result in feelings of parental failure and frustration.
For instance, how many times have we snapped at our children when the issue was more about our state of mind than their behavior? How many times has our stress or impatience delivered a sterner response than was warranted by an adolescent’s lack of wisdom and experience? The self-imposed expectation of “right” reactions in all scenarios can be overwhelming. But what if our focus changed from “getting it right” to simply making things better when we don’t. When our honest communication following a misstep bandages an emotional wound we never intended.
My sisters and I grew up in a home of rigid, harsh discipline, my father’s uncensored anger the driving force. While we never verbally questioned the unreasonableness of his parental rule, our frustration on occasion would betray our faces and expose our feelings of unfairness. To that, a barrage of “because” would commence – the most reiterated, “because I said so”. To complicate matters, my mother was emotionally detached, herself falling into unhealthy, reactionary patterns. Sadly in this scenario, getting it right was not a consideration, and the unattended heart wounds that were left to fester and cause damage were abundant.
From adolescence, my sister and I determined we would not be like our parents. We never wanted our children to be trapped in unfairness and frustration, never understanding the significance of the “offense” or the “whys” behind disciplinary measures. Committed to a different style of parenting, we promised ourselves that our children would experience reason rather than reaction, a sense of nurturing rather than oppression.
Fast forward to adulthood and it became clear that the pressures of life, with regularity, interfere with “getting it right.” Not to the degree of our childhood experiences thankfully, but undesired nonetheless. So what then? How do we address unintended wounds after unachieved goals? How do we mend breaches between the young ones entrusted to our care and our mistakes?
Quite simply, we humbly and honestly offer a band aid – an apology when warranted, and an explanation when needed. Neither action compromises our authority, and will most likely inspire forgiveness after “not” getting it right.
I remember a specific incident when my sister reacted to one of her children in a particularly harsh way. The issue itself wasn’t major, but since it was a new challenge in their relationship, it felt monumental. Hours later and in tears, she confessed to me how her reaction had been unreasonable to the offense. Her son had not acted out of defiance or rebelliousness, he was merely maneuvering a path he had never walked before and made a decision based on his not-yet mature reasoning.
After explaining her undesired reaction to the situation, I asked her what happened next. She shared they both went their separate ways, but after several minutes she knocked on her son’s door for a follow-up – her normal procedure.
“Then what?” I asked. She responded that she sat on his bed, apologized for her delivery, and in a calmer manner honestly shared the reasons for her concerns.
“Then what?” I prompted. She shared he apologized for his reaction and agreed that her concerns did make sense. They then hugged, apologized to each other again for the miscommunication, and she left his room, both saying “I love you” before the door closed.
“Then that’s what he’ll remember,” I assured her. Not the blow up, but the purposed decision to address the frustration the confrontation produced. Effects that had the potential to linger and cause emotional division, were soothed through humility and honesty. When her son emerged from his room minutes later, there was no residual anger or tension, because the band aid had been applied and healing had already begun.
Today, my sister enjoys a very loving and rewarding relationship with her four grown children because she implemented the practice of bandaging unintended wounds. And over the years I’ve watched as her children have exercised the same principles with each other, with their significant others, and now with their own children.
Some of our family’s fondest memories, when we belly-laugh around the table, are those moments of stupid mistakes and reactionary blunders. But the hurt is not the theme of their stories, it’s the bond and acknowledgement of growth that takes center stage.
I’ve learned there are several steps to successful bandaging. The first requirement: assessment. After a blow-up occurs, when lines have been drawn and opposite corners occupied, you must assess your reaction based on the offense. Was the reaction dismissive, angry, impatient, or unreasonable? If yes, then consider the response that would have been more appropriate – the response you would have preferred if the roles were reversed.
Next comes humility. As parents, there’s a self-imposed expectation that we must be the authority of getting it right in all things. But that is not realistic, and, it’s okay to admit that truth. When the dust settles following an unfortunate confrontation, approach your child with a spirit of reconciliation. Be thoughtful of your words, formulating them slowly with the intent of bringing healing to the relational tear. Be careful here not to view the response and message as one in the same. Consider only the method of the delivery. The message of concern may be valid, but the faulty expression should be the focus.
Honestly apologize for your response, convey why it wasn’t the best, and why it probably happened. For instance: I’m sorry I snapped at you. I’ve been under a lot of pressure at work, but it wasn’t fair to take it out on you. Or, I apologize for my reaction. Sometimes I’m not a good listener, and I need to do better so I can hear you.
At this point resist the desire to preach or emphasize their “part” in the confrontation. Allow silence to marinate your words, hopefully prompting acceptance of your apology. Chances are your child is just as anxious to relieve the tension as you are, and will express their forgiveness, removing the largest boulder from the road to reconciliation.
Once forgiven, prepare to honestly share your concerns about their choice or indiscretion. Start this part of the conversation addressing the consequences you fear may follow their decision. Don’t belittle them or defend your “rightness”, rather speak from the wisdom of your years, and your desire for their happiness and well-being.
“Getting it right” will always be a challenge, and our unsuccessful attempts will accentuate that truth over and over again. But if we redirect our focus to “making it better” when relational wounds do occur, applying band aids of humility, honesty, and patience, then healing will become the theme of the story.