I Can’t Believe I Did That! – And How to Make Repairs

Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD

Have you ever had one of those weeks when you feel like you are on edge – and you do or say things that you “know” aren’t helpful? Does it seem like “Mean Mommy” or “Dreadful Daddy” have taken over your body and you can’t help yourself? Do you recognize that awful feeling inside – when you feel bad for your children and then hear a voice telling you that you are a “bad” parent? Then of course you feel even worse. I know I’m not alone here but if you are like me, these “not so proud” parenting moments aren’t easy to share – so I feel alone. I think we can help each other out. Here are some ideas:

– Find a friend who is willing to listen to your story and share their own “not so proud” parenting moments. You don’t want someone who will give you advice, just someone who will listen and empathize and remind you just made a mistake, you are not a mistake. You want someone who is as courageous as you are and willing to share and learn from his or her own mistakes.

– Practice the steps of repair with your child(ren). The first step is re-gather. You have to find your sense of calm in your own body before you can connect with your child(ren). Sometimes that takes a couple of hours. Repairs are not very time sensitive, so take your time. Next recognize what you did that you can take responsibility for. This isn’t about you being “bad,” you just didn’t do or say what you might have said if you had been in a better place. You made a mistake. After you have done the “inside” work, approach your child(ren) and reconcile. Reconnect and BRIEFLY express your regret for what you did. Avoid long explanations about “why.” It might sound like, “This morning I yelled at you and I am really sorry,” or, “I said some mean things and I wish I could just rewind that tape and do it better. I am sorry.” As the final step, share your resolve to do better next time. Children take this seriously so don’t make promises you can’t keep, but rather make a commitment about your own behavior. “I am going to notice when I’m angry and take a few breaths or leave the room so I don’t yell.” Remember that a repair is just an offer. It is not your job to “make” your child feel better – even though that might make you feel better too.

– It is the adult’s responsibility to make the first repair. Even it “they” started it. We are the grownups. If your child also needs to make a repair, come back later to ask for the apology or to problem solve.

– Have faith in your children. You have not “ruined” them by making a mistake. You have a strong connection with them. Making and repairing mistakes teaches them the courage to be imperfect – and reminds them that you are human too.

Take care of yourself! We do better when we feel better. You will have fewer of these awful moments when you are making room in your life for the things you enjoy that are outside the responsibilities and joys of being a parent.

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Teaching people to do the right thing when no one is looking ... Growing equity and democracy, on family, one student, one classroom at a time.
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