This is just a shitty day of parenting. You know what I mean. Whatever I do or the children do or whatever is happening today sucks. My eldest winches and complains about every- and anything: the food (too spicy), the weather (too wet), his toys (too boring), me (because I’m not reading the same book for the 25th time today). Simultaneously his younger brother takes a pair of scissors and cuts open toothpaste tubes (“No, it wasn’t me!”), sets the alarm clock for 2 in the morning (“No, it wasn’t me, really!”), and finally blocks our toilet with the lid of our coconut oil jar (“No, Papa, it wasn’t me. Told you”).
To say it in one sentence: I COULD SCREAM! The thing is you can replace ‘could’ with ‘did’. Yep, the same guy who tells you all the time how to be empathic, calm, relaxed and so on, loses the plot. Because I’m upset, I’m annoyed, I’m f*****g angry. Yes, there is so much someone can take and yes, parenting also means that we have bad days. And, yes, we’re just human beings.
I love my kids, obviously. In an instant I felt ashamed and bad. Why didn’t I respond with a nice smile and a phrase, like “Don’t worry about the toilet. Yeah, it’s just fifty quid for the plumber, but hey, it’s just money, isn’t it? The bigger problem might be, where we go until the loo works again?”
But, as I said before, I didn’t respond in that cool way. I messed it up. But, the good news about that, it’s OK. No, it’s not OK to shout and scream but it does happen. To all of us. More important than the kick-off itself is the aftermath. What do you do next? And that’s where the key lies for me.
When I look back at my childhood, I remember my parents being loud or shouting at me on occasions only. Like a short but intensive thunderstorm. Sometimes it was about nothing (at least from my point of view), and then the “deserved” ones. What I also remember is the fact that my parents never ever came to me or my sister to apologise. It just didn’t happen. Once the thunderstorm was over, life went on – more or less – as normal. Only my dad could be quite unforgiving for a long time (but that’s a different issue).
What I’m trying to say is, that they missed an enormous and important chance of reconnection. They left me with all my feelings of resentments, frustration and shame alone. Yes, I might did something I shouldn’t have. Yes, I screwed up. Nevertheless I deserved love, support and kindness, because that’s what all children need: unconditional love.
After their anger had vanished, they could have come to me and said something like “Hey, we were really cross with you and that’s why we got mad at you, but now we wanted to see how you feel. And we wanted to say ‘sorry’ for being so mad. Look, grown-ups make mistakes, too. It’s sometimes quite confusing and hard to understand, even for us. Anyway, we wanted you to know, that we still love you! You are not responsible for our anger, it happened out of our own fear, insecurity and helplessness”.
What a powerful message that would have been. In an instant I would have forgiven anything. I would have cried and laughed at the same time.
Kids want to be loved. Of course. And, yes, they’re not doing things to upset or annoy us. If we think it’s mischief it often is a little cry out saying “Hey, I’m here. Play with me. I need you now!”. But often they can’t say it (because they are either too young or they haven’t got the words yet).
Let’s go back to my shitty day. Yep, everything went wrong, and that includes my response. When the storm had passed and things settled down, I went to see my boys. I looked them in their eyes and apologised. The apology doesn’t have to be very long (hey, you speak with kids), but should show respect and empathy. I see the very moment of the apology also as a great example of authentic parenting. I’m authentic because my kids can see that I make mistakes. That’s fine. Because I take responsibility for them and show how to deal with them.
After that we hugged and cuddled and reconnected. Children forgive so quickly and easily. They truly love unconditionally.
The reconnection or healing process is always important to me. Often I try to do something I know they enjoy: like reading their favourite book or having a long cuddle on the sofa. Especially with my eldest I use the evenings, before he goes off to sleep, to talk about it again. He often needs more time to digest things, to reflect and to talk about his feelings. Having that good father-son-chat really helps him and me to find to each other again. No, I’m not afraid to apologise and I’ll always tell my children how much I love them, particularly after a shitty day.