What’s most important may not be what you do, but what you do after what you did.
Words spoken by Dr Garry Landreth, internationally recognized for his writings and work with children. Words which I often draw comfort from….words I reminded myself of this evening….
Today was one of THOSE days…We all have them. Typically they happen when we are engaged in a single parenting stint, when we are tired…. when we are rushed…. when we are stressed….when we are busy… essentially, at the worst possible times….
We wish they didn’t happen…. but being imperfect mortal human beings, we WILL have them…. and they DO happen….
Today I had one… If I’m really being reflective…it’s probably been brewing from yesterday….
It’s been a busy and emotionally taxing week- a beloved pet being put down, a fish being flushed, parenting solo and a sinus infection that was threatening to take over my being. And the already crazy week has certainly only sped up as the days have gone by…
After low flying back from a meeting an hour out of town yesterday morning to fetch my daughter who’d been at the school nurse for a high temp (those calls seldom come when you are sitting at home close by with your feet up wondering what to do next), getting stuck in a highway traffic jam on the way to school, having a nonstop packed afternoon of work and an equally tiring, taxing evening of accounts, I flopped into bed too late last night, hoping for a semi decent seven hours of sleep…. but that was not to be…
Around midnight, Rachel, woke up, and the evening began again…. a vomiting, headachy and miserable little girl eventually fell asleep after Neurofen and some comforting… and eventually so did I… only to be woken two hours later by a sobbing Christian who had had a bad dream…. one of those that elicited my exhausted body out from under the cover of my duvet to attend to his tears too many times to count….
When my alarm beeped rudely at me this morning, my eyes felt like they had been bathed in a sub-Saharan desert, and my body screamed at me for being flattened by a refuse removal truck… well that’s what it felt like….
I pulled open the curtains determined I could boomerang the day to reflect the sunshine streaming through the glass doors, determined that this would be a more gentle, peaceful, less frenetic day…. hmmmmm….
A sick Rachel at home, a rush to Postnet, a busy morning of work, a darting to buy weekend birthday party presents, a charge to a parent teacher meeting and to fetching Christian, a hauling to a swimming lesson, a hurtling back down to my practice to see a client….
I stepped out the office a little later, feeling the effects of a long 36 hours, only to learn that my little six year old had experienced a ‘not such a well behaved afternoon’ at home, chasing petrified cats around lounges and other far worse uncharacteristic unspeakables… I sent him off to his bedroom and went outside to unsuccessfully catch miggies for some froglets we have been nurturing, not realizing the day was still in full brewing capacity….
At this point in a parenting day…. or day and a half…. we are, realistically, shattered into small glass shards and feeling stretched almost beyond recovery….
But then the day really took a final brutal twist of stress and squeezed the last drop of lemon….
As the late afternoon sun began cooling from a scorching day, an extremely robust and sizable Night Adder was almost stepped on alongside our flatlet.
I’m just not a snake person….
Right! …. Plan of action…. Post for identification on WhatsApp groups…. Ask for name of expert snake remover on WhatsApp groups… SOS call to discussed expert… Keep dogs and kids away…. And watch, to keep track of the writhing creature, as it attempted to indulge in a rather large frog, for twenty minutes whilst waiting for the Snake Removal and Rehabilitation Service to come…
Forty five minutes later, the coast was clear again and I headed inside to show the kids, who had been hanging onto the gate with gawking eyes, a video of the events. After much excitement, many questions, reiterations around house rules of spotting snakes in the garden, and a tub of warm bubble bath, I reheated the now dry dinner…again…. and then it began… the inevitable…. a whine from Rachel…. an alleged tongue pulling back from Christian, tears and a meltdown….. the culmination of a day too long, too busy, too exhausting for all of us….
Yes, I was at my end…I did it…. despite knowing it serves no purpose but to aggravate situations and fuel emotional dysregulation… I bellowed…. loudly…. very loudly….insanely loudly….THAT’S IT! I’VE HAD ENOUGH! THIS NEEDS TO STOP!!
Four large eyes stared back at me. Not quite sure what to make of the unpredictability of the situation….My heart sank. I knew at that very second that I was wrong… that I had blurted out my own frustrations and exhaustion of the past day and a half… that if I had stepped back just for a moment, I would have chosen a completely different, far more in control, far more gentle yet still firm way to deal with alleged tongue waggings and highly annoying whinings…. but the explosive words were out… no taking them back…. The three of us stood shell shocked whilst waiting for the after quake of thunder still rattling the walls to subside….
I put the plates on the table, and just before being drowned by a wave of guilt, those words came rushing to me…. What’s most important may not be what you do, but what you do AFTER what you did….
What was most important now was choosing the next words I uttered…
“Christian and Rache, I’m sorry I shouted. I shouldn’t have. It was wrong of me. We’ve all had a long day, and we are all tired. I was frustrated when you weren’t being kind to one another and listening, but I shouldn’t have shouted and I’m really sorry. Moms and dads also mess up sometimes. I love you both very much”.
We stuff up. We know the second we do. And we often try to sweep these mess ups under the carpet before anyone can notice or do anything about them. But apologies are powerful. Saying sorry communicates that we all make mistakes and gives our children permission to make mistakes in life too. It communicates that even when we make mistakes, relationships heal, and love grows stronger by being real with one another. If we don’t apologize even when we know we mess up, our children will internalize that they are always the wrong ones, that they are always the mess ups, that they are unlovable, and the impact that this will have on their sense of self is immeasurable. When our children don’t feel that they can make mistakes, and they live under the skewed veil of so-called perfection, they become anxious, they feel unworthy. What a gift to give them to teach them the power of apology, the power of accepting humanity. In that, we in turn as parents learn the power of forgiveness, which children so freely give.
Christian, Rachel and I shared a happy dinner together, filled with exhilarating conversation about our exciting day.
We achieve more through apology than reminders of wrong doings….Two content children, who were reminded of the power of apology, who experienced the power of humanity, who were embraced in the power of love through imperfection, who internalized with a quiet security the okayness of making mistakes…..flopped into bed after big hugs and profuse, “I love you mom”s, and were asleep almost before their heads touched their pillowcases. Forgiveness saturated the evening air…
Give your children the gift of accepting their humanity, of accepting that it’s okay to mess up, and of understanding that powerful healing and deepening of relationships happens in the aftermath of an apology.
Take heart fellow parents who stuff up…. who shout at times, who lose it, who make the wrong decisions every now and then, who sometimes feel like the damage is too much to go back on….We are all on this wondrous and unpredictable journey of raising children, no matter their age, and making mistakes is an inseparable part of that….
The power of apology- healing, forgiving, deepening…. What’s most important may not be what you do, but what you choose to say and do after what you did….
With motherly love
What’s most important may not be what you do, but what you do after what you did.