All too often in our struggles to maintain control over a situation, we lose perspective. There are times when what starts out to be a minor annoyance gets blown up out of proportion as a result of the exhaustion and frustration of our day. We have all been in a situation where emotions run so high that they no longer reflect the issue at hand. Something else in our lives (a previous grudge, anger with a spouse, stress at work, financial worries) has impeded our ability respond appropriately.
As a result of hanging on to the residue of hurt and resentment from an earlier interaction, we make mistakes. We respond inappropriately, or misjudge a situation and make false accusations.
Once when I was 8 years old, my mother misunderstood what I said and was convinced that I had used a curse word. She slapped me across the face and forbade me to attend a street fair that we had looked forward to for months, sending me instead to spend the day in my room.
She would not listen to my side of the story, and the punishment so far exceeded the crime. This did not teach me not to swear, but that the world is an unfair place and if I’m going to be punished for nothing, maybe I should do naughty things so at least I will deserve the punishment.
When we are completely frazzled at the end of a long day, we are more likely to respond inappropriately as we reach the end of our rope. We tend to forget that the little people in our lives are only 3 or 6 years old, and that their lack of response is not necessarily a conscious ploy to test or disobey.
Once after nagging my son to pick up his toys, to no avail, I stormed into the play room and said, “You want to play in a mess? I’ll give you a mess!”, and proceeded to dump every last toy in the room onto the floor.
I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself! On some level I had realized things were spiraling beyond the limits of rationality, but didn’t have the wherewithal to take appropriate action or let go of it. After a few minutes I went back to apologize, and we put the toys away together.
Parenting is such an important and difficult job. Usually, the only training we receive is the example set by our own parents. There is no mandatory preparation for dealing with the multitude of situations that arise. We have to make on the spot decisions, and at times we simply react without thinking something through. Even the best and most well-intentioned of parents sometimes act in ways that are harmful to a child. We all make mistakes.
Once when the kids were small it became too quiet in the other room, and upon further investigation I discovered my son and the little girl from down the street playing “doctor”. I knew what they were doing, but rather than telling them that this was not okay and letting it go at that, I proceeded to insist that they tell me what they were doing. A deeply humiliated five-year-old ran home in tears, telling her mother that she was never coming back to our house, ever again!
Thankfully, I realized my mistake and sent the child a note of apology, after which she continued to run through the house with all the other neighborhood kids as if they were part of the family. Years later she told me how much that note meant to her at the time.
Don’t think that it is beneath your dignity to apologize. An honest apology when something like this happens serves to make amends, allows children to see that we all make mistakes, and makes it easier to let go of the guilt we are all too willing as parents to heap upon ourselves. -RDW (7-5-10)