“My dad never apologized for anything. He never admitted he was wrong, made a mistake or said he was sorry for anything. I think that caused so much friction and anger in our relationship. Now, I find I’m starting to do the same thing with my boys,” Stewart said during a parenting class. “How can I change?”
We had been talking that evening about ways that parents discourage their children, and that a misbehaving child is always a discouraged child.
Stewart recognized himself in our discussion of the four key ways that parents discourage children:
- negative expectations,
- focusing on mistakes,
- perfectionism and
Stewart saw his father’s inability to apologize as a result of a desire to be seen as perfect. Stewart was realizing that his desire for perfection might create the same kind of discouragement in his children that he had experienced as a child. Stewart wanted a long-term healthy relationship with his boys, then ages three and four.
I shared with Stewart and the group one of my experiences with perfectionism and the power of apologizing.
My book club was scheduled to arrive at our home in less than 30 minutes. My daughters were three and four and were helping me prepare snacks and set out plates and napkins. I was a little out of sorts because my husband was out of town and wasn’t home to help put the girls to bed. As we left the kitchen, a glass platter got bumped. Vegetables and dip flew off the counter. Broccoli, celery and carrot sticks flew across the floor along with shards of glass. Garlic leek dip landed in my shoes.
It was an unfortunate and poorly timed accident. It was not intentional, but I reacted as if it had been masterfully planned. “Upstairs. Now. Both of you. I can’t believe you did this. You’ve ruined everything,” I yelled, instantly regretting my lack of self-control.
There was no excuse for blowing up, even if there was onion dip in my shoes. No excuse.
The girls ran upstairs, upset and crying. I cleaned up the mess, rueful of how I had overreacted. I walked up the stairs and sat down on their bed.
“I’m sorry I lost my temper. I know this was an accident, and you didn’t mean to knock the plate from the table. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I think I was more concerned about things being perfect for my meeting than your feelings. Will you forgive me? How can I make you feel better?” I choked back my tears.
My daughters patted me on the arm. “It’s okay, Mom. We still love you.”
Children have such kind, resilient and forgiving natures. We were all children once, and it helps us to be better parents when we can remember that.
Don’t be afraid of looking out of control or weak to your children when you’ve done something you wish you hadn’t. Say you’re sorry, ask for forgiveness and try to make things right.
Apologize, and you’ll side-step those four key ways parents discourage their children. Just apologize.