Most of us, at some point or another, have a parental meltdown; a moment where our emotions, in response to our child’s behaviour, gets the better of us and we react with frustration and/or anger. There are many factors that can contribute to these meltdowns. For me, It could be that I am tired, stressed, disconnected from the kids or my husband or that I have lost sight of perspective in the way I am viewing their behaviours .
Either way, I know it shouldn’t happen. I know I have to be more mindful and to keep my emotions in check. I know that each time I lose it with my children, it affects them and it affects our relationship. It is important, therefore, that I make an effort to repair the rupture that has happened, before moving on.
To enact this process of restoration, I need to take responsibility for my actions, swallow my pride and model humility for the benefit of my children and our relationship. Respectful parenting advocate, Janet Lansbury says, “I would always make amends when I’ve lost my temper, been impatient or unclear, changed my mind, made a mistake, hurt my child (intentionally or inadvertently), or come to a realisation about recent past mistakes.”
I was hanging the washing out when my children were toddlers. They were playing a room just inside the door with the neighbours’ older children. I heard some tension between my two and, as I moved in to support them, I observed one of them sitting on a ride-on car and the other trying to get it out from under her.
I tried to move calmly but quickly to keep them both safe, but was unable to prevent my daughter being pushed off her bike by her sister, ending up in a crying heap on the floor. Despite all my understandings of my triggers, despite knowing that this was more my fault for not providing adequate supervision or separation and despite being committed to being a peaceful and respectful parent, I reacted angrily.
I grabbed my daughter quite roughly and abruptly put her on the ground away from the bike before picking it up and angrily shouting: “No one is having the bike now!”, shoving it up high out of reach without any further explanation.
I then picked my crying daughter up from the floor, cuddled her and, then let her know It was time to change her nappy. As I began the changing process, my other daughter entered the room. In what I can only assume was a show of disgust for how I had reacted to the previous situation, she made a swipe at her sister. I was able to calmly block and support her by saying, “I won’t let you hit her.” but I could tell she was holding on to some hurt.
After the nappy change, both girls went back to the rumpus room to play. After a while I noticed my daughter sitting at her desk quietly drawing in her art pad. Having had time to reflect on the situation, I knew I needed to make reparations for my earlier parental meltdown. I knew I had handled the situation poorly and I wanted to apologise and try to acknowledge her feelings post event.
I moved near her and initiated a conversation. I connected first with, “You’re doing some drawings, huh?” and when I didn’t get a negative response I continued, pausing after each statement. “I’m sorry I lost my temper with you…. I could see you really wanted that bike… I should have been more gentle with you when I was supporting you both…. I got angry and that scared you…. I’m really sorry, sweetheart.”
At this point, she stopped her drawing and stood up on her chair reaching up for me to pick her up. She then wrapped her arms around my neck and squeezed me hard into her with her little fingers.
After cuddling me tightly like this for quite sometime, she calmly and matter-of-factly said: “That was my bike.” letting me know with her limited articulation that she probably had the bike first. I knew then, that she had been stewing over the incident as well. She had not simply gotten over it and moved on as it can be easy to think. She was internalising the event along with my reaction and further convincing herself that my love for her may not be as strong as it is for her sister or maybe, that it is conditional.
She continued to cuddle me for what seemed like forever before pulling my cheek towards her and lightly kissing it.
As far as ‘aha’ moments go, this was up there for me. How many times had I lost my temper with the girls but failed to resolve it with them, instead, using the benefit of time to (apparently) cure-all angsts?
My daughter had shown me that she forgave me and furthermore appreciated that I had taken the time to talk it through with her. By speaking openly with her about my remorse, I could successfully dispel any of those horrible thoughts she may have been having about the depth of my love for her and simultaneously model the restoration process.
I listened to a podcast once whereby Richard Fidler from ABC Local Conversations spoke with Dr Tina Payne Bryson, a psychotherapist and co-author of No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, about how a parent’s interaction with their children, particularly in moments of high stress, will affect how their children’s brains are ‘wired’.
It was relieving to hear her say that, “it is impossible to be an intentional, thoughtful parent all the time”. She also stated that our children give us, “millions of opportunities to connect with them throughout their lives” through moments that are high stress. It is important that we use these opportunities wisely and if we don’t for whatever reason, it is important to make reparations with them in the aftermath and in doing so, recreate some of those opportunities for connection. It sure felt good doing that in this situation.
My parenting is inspired by Magda Gerber’s RIE approach which I learned of through Janet Lansbury’s blog. If you are interested in learning more you can find some good information here or I highly recommend these books (affiliate links)
Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect (2nd Edition) ~ Magda Gerber
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting ~ Janet Lansbury
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame ~ Janet Lansbury