There is one rule in my home that my husband and 15 year old daughter have had drilled into their brains ever since my twin sons were born: you can be tired, you can be hungry, you can be frustrated, overwhelmed, upset, cranky and feel any number of emotions on any given day. We are human. We are busy, busy, (ridiculously busy), sleep deprived humans and all those feelings and emotions are a part of life. What you absolutely CANNOT do? You can’t allow any of those emotions to negatively affect any of the three younger little beings in our home (or anyone else for that matter but my focus is on the little ones). Should you break that rule, you WILL be subjected to this overprotective mama’s wrath. My belief is that our babies, John and Phoenix who will be two this week, and Eva, who just turned 6, need to see us as loving, nurturing stable minded protectors. It may seem like a lot of pressure to put on my 15 year old, but every child is different and I believe mine is capable of truly understanding the importance of this rule. My husband, of course, is on the same page and has managed to keep ME in check if I’m treading dangerously close to breaking this rule. But…
Today I broke the rule. I shattered it with a heavy steel hammer and all the ugly painful shards of glass fell on my unsuspecting 6 year old. Those shards were my frustrations. My sleep deprivation, my anger at having to handle someone’s mess that was never tended to the night before. My exhaustion after running around with the twins, buying birthday presents for the two parties we were to attend (same day and overlapping times) as well as the last minute supplies I needed for a school event in a few hours and a picnic the next morning. I forgot to defrost the chicken for dinner, lost my license and so much more that I can’t even remember. In short, I was having an extra tough day. What topped it off was Eva. She started chasing her brothers around the family room while playing monster and knocked over a tray of fruit I had on the dining room table. Between the stress of the day and thinking of the stress to come in the next few hours AND the next couple of days, the noise around me, and lack of sleep, that little mistake brought the worst out of me: I yelled at her. LOUD. I yelled that she was driving me crazy!! And did she see what she just did?! Does she know that’s all trash now?? Why can’t she be calm? Why can’t she do this for me, just for today, so that I don’t completely lose my mind??! And then I walked away, but not before seeing something in her eyes.
Her eyes. Those big bright, vibrant, fun-loving little eyes were not the eyes I was used to seeing on Eva’s face. These eyes were terrified. They were full of confusion and welling up with tears. They told me what I already knew. Her mama had broken her heart. I had turned into a monster. What was worse, unlike the playful scary monster she was pretending to be with her twin brothers, this monster was very, very real. The guilt was too much. I walked away, leaving her to cry softly on her own.
I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat on the floor in the kitchen right next to the fridge where I usually “hide” to catch my breath. (Don’t tell me you don’t hide from your kids. Or spouse.) Taking deep breaths I put things in perspective and acknowledged my mistake. What exactly WAS I so upset about? I was angry at my child for simply being a child. Angry that she got so caught up in her own silly six-year-old happiness that what I felt was carelessness was simply an accident. She was a big scary monster/dinosaur/bird-like creature who was chasing two tiny little cavemen. She made them scream with giggles and laughter.
I believe that an adult has to be very specific when apologizing to a child. Their little minds only know a fraction of a percent of what we know as experienced adults. For an apology to be fully understood, we should do our best to explain things completely. I walked over to my cowering child and scooped her up into my lap. The mess was still there and actually growing as her brothers were now eating from the floor (pick your battles people – the twins won that one.)
As we watched the little cavemen eating mangos, I explained how sometimes there is so much going on that Mama’s brain can’t keep up with her emotions. That I don’t believe in time-out for children but I think adults need them now and then. Today, I made a mistake and didn’t give myself a time-out. I needed one to help my brain calm down. Accidents happen, it wasn’t her fault. I thanked her for playing with the boys and helping me make her brothers so happy. Most importantly, I explained that no one who is supposed to love her should ever, ever hurt her, but if they’re truly sorry it’s good for her heart to forgive. Could she forgive me today?
What I didn’t say was that this won’t happen again. In her six years in this world I think I may have let emotions get the best of me once or twice. I can’t remember. But promising her that it won’t happen again is dangerous. I’m human. “Adulting” is not easy and empty promises are damaging to a child who trusts you to keep your word. Saying sorry and repeating the same mistake is harmful and affects them negatively well into adulthood. They may mistakenly believe that an abusive boyrfriend/girlfriend who constantly apologizes but continues to hurt them, either physically or emotionally, is normal. It isn’t. I didn’t make a promise I know I may not be able to keep but did promise MYSELF that I’ll try my damndest not to repeat the same mistake.
We all lose our sh%! now and then. But what I find truly heroic is when someone is able to admit their wrongs especially to a child. Mistakes can be used a learning and growing experiences not just for us as adults but also for the children who watch us and soak up our every move. What was great about all this for me was watching the sparkle come back to Eva’s gorgeous brown eyes as we walked over and joined her brothers in the mango eating frenzy. Yep, we ate right off the floor. She had forgiven me and nothing else mattered at the moment. To hell with the 5 second rule right? 😉
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