So you’ve messed up. You’ve said something you shouldn’t. You’ve done something that you are not proud of. You are not alone. We all have these moments as parents. The question is, “What now?”
Here are some tips:
Assess underlying issues
The first step is to look for patterns and triggers. Ask yourself, “What were the triggers for my reaction?” “Was I responding in the moment or were there other issues that clouded my judgment?” “Do I have unresolved hurt or anger that cause me to react in an extreme way?”
Understanding yourself and what fuels your anger can help you address the root cause and break patterns of behavior. You may find that you need help in this area and individual or parent counseling might be a good next step.
it’s also important to asses for any vulnerabilities you may have that set you up for undesirable behavior. You may find that being hungry, tired or hot creates a perfect storm for losing your cool with your kids. Paying attention to your internal state will help you intervene before you get to a rupture you have to repair later.
Make it right
You may want to rehearse what you plan to say to your child, especially if apologizing does not come easy for you. Once you can put words to what you are thinking, find a quiet, private moment, take your child aside and make your apology. It can be as simple as, “I made a bad choice in how I handled that situation. I am truly sorry and I ask your forgiveness.” You can even add some thoughts on how you plan to handle the situation differently in the future.
Resist the temptation to justify, rationalize or otherwise explain away your mistake. It will deflate your apology and make it seem insincere. If you want children who are truly repentant, then model true repentance yourself. You may find that with this type of apology, your child will quickly assert his or her fault as a contributor anyway (if they were) without you needing to point it out.
Apologizing to teens
This can be particularly difficult, especially if you feel you are struggling to hold on to what little shred of respect you think they have for you. Despite this fear, apologies (that are true and genuine – not manipulative in order to illicit an apology from them) are essential in maintaining open lines of communication with your teen. They will shut you down and dismiss any advice you may give if you seek to maintain an image of perfection.
Teens are quick to erect walls (in fact, this is their job – developmentally they are trying to separate from you). But these walls can leave you scrambling to find a way in. Trying to break them down or blast through them with lectures and demands will do you no good. Standing humbly at the door and knocking can do wonders if you were in the wrong. You will not appear weaker to them if you admit your faults. Rather, you will become an ally and resource for them – something they will desperately need as they navigate through those tumultuous years.
The importance of following ruptures with repair
The most important foundational pillar to any parenting framework is connection. Your child’s sense of attachment and security within the parent-child relationship is essential for healthy development. But it is important to know that parental perfection is not an ingredient in this recipe. Attachment is based on repairs, not just getting it right all the time. So when you make a mistake, don’t despair, seek forgiveness, knowing that you are repairing a rupture, creating a solid foundation for your relationship with your child. They don’t need you to be perfect. They need to know you are human.
As a believer, you can use your mistakes as an opportunity to share the beauty of the gospel. You can say, “I messed up. I hope you can forgive me. I’m not perfect and I don’t expect you to be either. Thankfully, we have Jesus for that.”