My not so glorious moments as a parent flooded my mind.
Believe me, I’ve had many.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had those parent-fail moments, too.
Yeah, you know the ones I’m talking about. Like when you scream at your kids and accuse one of them of moving your car keys only to fish them out of your purse (or worse, your pocket) while they all look on.
Or when one of them gets sick on the floor, and you yell at him for making a mess.
Those moments. The first one that popped into my head was the time I inadvertently left my 18 month out on the driveway, closed the garage door, went in the house and had lunch.
We’d been grocery shopping, and I’d thought one of the older kids had taken him into the house.
About the time the other kids and I frantically began looking for him, my neighbor rang my doorbell holding my tearful child whom she had found on the driveway banging on the closed garage door. (She was never really friendly with me after that.)
We mess up. In our “in your face” culture today, people rarely take responsibility for pain they cause others. It’s hard enough to apologize to an adult. What about when you mess up as a parent and need to apologize to your kid? Notice I said “when” not “if.”
How we handle mistakes teaches our kids lessons about how they should respond when they mess up. Taking steps to make amends to your kids when you mess up makes them feel loved.
I love my kids and generally take pretty good care of them, but (obviously) I’m fallible. If you haven’t figured it out, mistakes are inevitable.
One time one of my kids tripped down a very short flight of stairs and broke his arm. I didn’t think he was really hurt. In fact, I didn’t realize he was really hurt until about three hours later. Kids fall all the time, right? No visible swelling. And, he really didn’t seem hurt. Yeah, he was whimpering, but I thought it was for effect.
I asked if he could move it. He could.
I asked if he could wiggle his fingers. He could.
In my expert medical opinion, I told him to suck it up.
Three hours later, his elbow had swollen to the size of a softball, and he was in a lot of pain (and complaining that I had let him suffer for three hours with a broken arm.)
Umm…bad call. Very bad call.
Making mistakes is never fun.
Here are some tips for making amends to our kids and for building relationships in general.
Making mistakes is never fun because if you want to be a godly parent or spouse or friend (or person) YOU HAVE to take action when you mess up, which usually means acknowledging that you’ve messed up. Acknowledging the specific act is usually helpful but not fun.
Generic acknowledgements like “hey, sorry about that” are lame because you’re not taking responsibility. It’s almost dismissive, but identifying the specific offense and how it must have made someone else feel lets that person know that you understand the pain you caused. And you’re taking responsibility for it.
Something like this: I’m sure I hurt your feelings when I screamed at you for vomiting on the floor right after I mopped it. I know you weren’t feeling well. I must have made you feel like I care more about a clean floor than I do about you. When, in fact, I love you a lot and feel badly that you were sick.
Most people don’t want to admit that they’ve messed. But, after a few thousand times, it gets easier.
Most people don’t want to admit that they’ve messed up much less apologize for it. But, when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings, you need to say the “s” word.
People don’t like to apologize. As parents, too many times we shy away from humbling ourselves before our kids. It’s awkward. It’s embarrassing. We think it makes us look weak.
Actually, humility shows strength of character.
After love and discipline, humility before our children is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.
Apologize like you mean it. With sincerity. For example, I’m sorry for screaming at you when you vomited on the floor right after I mopped it. I must have hurt your feelings. I love you and don’t want to make you feel badly. Your health is more important to me than a clean floor.
And then offer to make it right.
Offer an alternative to your behavior: I know you didn’t intentionally try to make my life harder by vomiting on the floor right after I mopped it. Next time you vomit on the floor right after I mop it, I’ll respond in a more loving and sympathetic way. Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?
Do I get it right every time?
Nope. And you won’t either, but, practice makes progress. Making the effort goes a long way towards building and maintaining healthy relationships.
3. Ask Forgiveness
Ask for forgiveness. Apologizing and asking forgiveness are not my ideas. God commands it. When a child or anyone sees you’re truly brokenhearted over hurting him and think enough of him to apologize and ask forgiveness, he feels loved and important. It also gives children a model for navigating their mistakes in the future.
Considering others before ourselves is a model of Christ-like behavior, which goes a long way toward building relationships and healing hurts.
Also, teach children to accept an apology graciously.
I cycled through the fact that I rarely cook when my husband is traveling…umm…which is a lot. We eat—sandwiches, soup, cereal; I just don’t cook. Cooking is a mother thing. That’s part of our job. Believe me, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The list goes on and on. The more I thought about my mothering, the worse I felt.
I tried to focus on my pastor, but I had this nagging feeling that I needed to ask my kids how I could be a better mom to them. Not a question I was dying to ask, but it was necessary.
Leaving church I pondered an opportune time to pop the question to my teen-aged son.
I was debating between the next time we ordered pizza or the next time I decided to surprise him with a new game for his Xbox (which would be in the very near future) or when we finally got to take that trip to the African safari.
I had finally settled on the new game scenario (African safari was tempting) when he turned to me and asked…
“So, Mom, what do you think you should do differently as a mom?’ (He really was paying attention in church.)
Dang. Looked like I was going to have to pay the piper. I fought the urge to drop to his feet and beg forgiveness. The broken arm incident flashed through my mind. But, I didn’t flinch.
I can smile at some of these mess-ups now, but at the time, they were not funny. Some of them still are not funny today.
I can also smile, even laugh, at my imperfections. I fall short–a lot. When we’re in the midst of parenting, we might not realize the wounds we are inflicting on our children. In fact, sometimes we don’t realize it until years later when they begin to display undesirable behaviors or begin raising their own children.
You’ll be able to tell how well you parented by the way your children parent their children.
But, why wait? Make amends along the way. It’s easier to apologize to a child than to fix a broken adult.
Healing is still possible when kids are adults.
Even if kids are now adults, it’s not too late to apologize and ask for forgiveness if there is a history of unhealed hurts. An apology can begin healing a broken heart and start mending a broken relationship.
I’m not an expert. No one is. I’ll make many, many more mistakes as a parent. Part of being a good parent means you make mistakes. If you aren’t making mistakes, you’re not trying. In addition to all my blunders, I think I’ve done a few things right.
As uncomfortable as it was, I knew I needed to ask my son that question because as I said, I’m not perfect, and I can improve.
I said, “Well, Son, the question is what do you think I should do differently as a mom?” I waited for him to answer…
“Well,” he said, “As moms go, I’d have to honestly say that you’re a pretty good one.” He bent down and gave me a hug. But, as he walked off he added, “You need to work on that cooking thing.”
Hey, no one’s perfect.