Have you ever blown it as a parent? Join the club. The bad news is that it’s impossible to be “there” emotionally for your children 100% of the time. The good news is that a sincere attempt at apology and repair can mend those relationship ruptures.
According to Dr. Gottman, some of the best marital partners are emotionally available only 9% of the time. (Yes, you read correctly, 9% of the time). So, if 91% of an adult relationship is ripe for ruptures in communication, what are the odds that you’ll fail to respond well or be available to your children?
Apology and repair is key
Thankfully, the difference between “good mothers and bad mothers,” according to Donald Winnicott, “is not the commission of errors, but what they do with them.” How children cope with your limits and failures each day is subject to how well you repair them and make amends. In other words, your child’s success depends upon apology and how well you nurture the attachment bond, especially when things go awry.
Reparation separates wise parents from not-so-wise parents
I’ve spoken with parents all over the globe about when they get out of synch with children and one thing stands out. Even the best parents report:
- Yelling at their children
- Saying mean things, they regret later
- Taking things personally, and getting critical and defensive
- Ignoring and stonewalling their children
At the moment, they all look—and act—like unhealthy parents. The difference? At some point, wise parents calm down, find their compassion, soften their voice, and have a conversation where they both can recover from the demon dialogue. Not-so-wise parents fail to recognize ruptures, don’t make amends, and typically focus on completing that day’s activities instead.
Wise parents take responsibility for their part in the drama. They focus on repair so they can continue to mend, protect, and nurture the parent/child bond. They realize their relationship with children is far more important than the any of the disrespect or misbehavior they just encountered.
The goal of repair is to understand what went wrong
When things go awry, it can be tempting to throw your hands up and express your frustration or say and do things you regret later. However, when apology and repair is the focus, the goal is to understand what went wrong and how to make the conversation more constructive. When emotional snarls erupt (and they will), the key is to ask, “How do I make things better again?”
Here are some examples of a repair attempt:
- “Sweetie, I don’t think either of us is listening to each other. How about we start over?”
- “I know this is hard, but I need a break. Can we talk about this in 10 minutes?”
- “I’m sorry, I wish I hadn’t said that.”
Your apology or repair attempts don’t need to look prolific
Most parents secretly worry about ruining their children and then walk on eggshells when it’s time to make amends. To ease your mind, your repair attempts don’t need to look prolific, just honest and genuine. For example, at a recent ball game, I observed a single mom who worked full time and her 8-year old son talking to each other. As he shared his frustration about her getting home after dinner time, here is how the conversation unfolded:
|C:||“Well, I get hungry and really frustrated, and don’t want to wait for you to get home from work.|
|P:||“Why don’t you ask Carla (the nanny) for a snack?”|
|C:||Smiles, tips his head, then gestures with a non-verbal look that said, “What? Do you think I’m a moron? Of course, I ask her for snacks. But eating is more fun with you, ding-a-ling.”|
When he smiled and made that gesture, Mom realized she needed to repair. In response, she looked into his eyes and smiled in a relaxed and accepting way and nodded slowly.
That was her repair attempt: A big, stupid grin that was warm, inviting and very accepting. Then, together, they burst into laughter. Next, mom reached over and hugged her son and said, “Sounds like meals taste better when I’m around.”
Point To Ponder
The real difference between the parents who repair successfully and those who don’t is subject to the emotional climate between parent and child. In other words, your repair attempt is only going to work well if the two of you remain good friends, especially when things go awry.
|Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more effective. He is the founder of In Touch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today’s parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive. read more about Steve Cuffari here…|