Tales From the Dark Side

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As parents, it takes some humility to acknowledge our shortcomings with our kids. But as we “own” our mistakes, it makes it much easier for them to follow our example and “own” their mistakes.

I need to make a confession. It’s not something of which I’m proud, but I think you will likely be able to relate. I wish I could say that I always respond to my husband and children in the right way and am filled with patience even when I feel as if I’m drowning in a sea of responsibilities. Unfortunately, sometimes the opposite is true. Here is a case in point.

My preteen daughter was whining that something wasn’t fair, my 10-year-old son was crying because his sister hit him, I was late to get on an important work conference call, and I was exhausted from getting up at 3 a.m. with my brain not being able to turn off and go back to sleep. I told my son to suck it up, she didn’t hit that hard (yeah, not proud of that one), told my daughter “just STOP IT!” and got angry with my husband for something completely stupid when he came in from a meeting in the middle of all of it. 

Yes, I had officially slipped to the dark side. Please tell me I’m not the only one!

Sadly, we’ve all ‘lost it’ at one time or another and felt like complete heels afterwards. I mean, I start out every day telling myself that today I will be like a working-mom version of June Cleaver (OK, I probably just dated myself), and yet by day’s end, there are times that my kids probably think I’m more like a crazy Chucky doll with its hair on fire.

I was telling someone about this question recently and she sighed and said, “I try, but in the end, there isn’t that much that we can really do. I mean, we are who we are; if you’re an emotional person you’re an emotional person.” I thought: not true! You force yourself to not yell at your boss when you’re angry at a decision, right? That shows we can do it.  And I loved Lysa TerKeurst’s book Unglued that gives example after example of ways to have that self-control the Bible talks about.

One tip that I’ve seen around is something that I should have applied in that situation, because I really have found it SO helpful in others!

It is a tip borrowed from drug-rehab and other recovery groups: to realize that we need to stop and think—to HALT—instead of reacting immediately when we are:  Hungry, Anxious or Angry, Late or Lonely, or Tired. It’s under these conditions that we typically start to react in a way we’ll regret later.

Think back to the last several times you did, in fact, ‘lose it.' I’m willing to bet that one or more of these key triggers had something to do with it. Here’s something else to consider. Our kids get to these points of no return as well. If we react poorly when we’re Hungry, Anxious, Late or Tired, just think how hard it is for our children to ‘keep it together’ under similar circumstances! 

It is so important for them to see us lead by example—to show them how we can HALT when we most want to explode, and slow ourselves down so that we can have that self-control that will make such a big difference in their lives. And in ours.

I’m all about prevention but what if, despite our best efforts, we still mess up… if we fail and lash out? While there is no ‘re-do’ button, there is the old fashioned sincere apology. Kids of all ages can and do appreciate when we admit we were wrong. An apology sets such an amazing example for your child. It helps them realize that everyone slips up. And that when we do mess up, the only thing we can do is apologize and learn from our mistakes. 

While it seems elementary, this simple approach to an apology is incredibly helpful. The first step is the “I’m sorry…” or “I wish I had not…”  Second, name the crime: “I shouldn’t have… said what I said in such an angry tone of voice…” Next, acknowledge the impact of the offense: “I realize how embarrassed that made you feel with your friend in the car,” or “I would not want anyone to speak to me like that in front of my friends…”.  Finally, make amends if appropriate: "Since there isn’t a re-do on that one, how about I make your favorite French toast for breakfast tomorrow morning?” The idea is to very clearly show our children how to take responsibility for their actions. In our house, we say it’s important to ‘own it’—own your actions and fix things when you mess up.

No one is perfect. We are all fallen, so it’s a given that we will all mess up. But how will you react when you do? It’s not how far we fall or how hard we land, it's how we pick ourselves up afterwards that counts. And in our case, as moms, it’s the example we set for our children in the process. It takes some humility to acknowledge our shortcomings with our kids. But as we “own” our mistakes it makes it much easier for them to follow our example and “own” their mistakes. Besides, confession is sweet to the soul and beats life on the dark side hands down.

 

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