The truth in that statement is profound. And more of us parents need to start making it a core part of our inner dialog. In fact, parent or not, more of us humans need to start channeling this into our inner voice.
Yet how we execute it is integral to it's truth.
It is not an excuse for every time we drop the ball, and especially not when we really mess up. Nor is it justification to treat others (including our kids) however we want. It is not a free pass either. Rest assured our choices will come home to roost.
Rather it is a way to check our relationship pulse. To make daily self-checks and make needed adjustments. Permission to forgive ourselves, our children, our mate, or a friend and then take a deep breath and try again.
Many adults, including some parents, have the expectation that people, (especially children) "should know better". This is not entirely unjustified. I have this expectation of my various children for various things. I have, just recently in fact, reprimanded and employed consequences on my big kids for just such an infraction. I also feel this way about most adults, as do you most likely.
However, sometimes they don't "know better".
We tend to make certain mental age cutoffs for behavior. (Myself included.) When a person, be it a child or adult or anyone in between, behaves contrary to our belief system, we feel vindicated in dispensing correction or punishment, or at the very least, in passing judgement.
When blindly followed, however, this course can be dangerous, and can have undesirable consequences that can affect a person's, but most especially, a child's, sense of self and the trust they have in us.
I speak, sadly, from experience. I have yelled at my children when I should have listened instead. I have doled out punishment while angry. I have been stabbed through the heart at the sight of my precious little people, heads hanging with shame and tears in their eyes because I, their protector, had allowed my sense of "expectation" to be more important than their hearts, and had led them to feel like they were failing.
Shame on me.
I have also made similar mistakes in many of my adult relationships. All of us have.
How then can we make these moments fewer and far between?
- First, by taking a breath...When we feel the tension rising, in our chest, our backs, our temples, wherever you first feel the warmth of indignation...stop. Breathe. Deeply. And again.
- Second, by removing the danger...This means, scooping the baby out of reach of a tantruming toddler, confiscating items causing controversy (or being used as weapons), throwing a towel on liquid that is steadily rolling toward an electrical source, and otherwise getting them (or yourself) out of harms way. Then take another slow deep breath.
- Third, sometimes, by taking a breather...When, by this point, we are still in a state of high agitation, it is often a good idea to walk away and just take a couple of minutes. While the mess or emotional aftermath might seem gigantic (and perhaps it is), more often than not it can also wait five, ten, or even more minutes in order for us to simmer down and prepare to face it more collected. Because more often than not, it's not a true emergency. If it means putting on a favorite show to keep little ones calm, or even handing out fruit snacks to ensure a cease fire for five minutes, then fine. The result is a chance for everyone to regain composure, address any possible battle wounds, and to find the reset button. To breathe.
Most of the time, when I take these steps, I find that my real emotion isn't anger, it's annoyance. Or worse, fear. Fear that I'm failing.
But, when I'm not operating under the angry cloud, I find myself much more logical about things. And much more forgiving. I can mop up the half-inch of water that flooded all over the bathroom floor, snip bubble gum out of hair, scrub marker off the walls, and reiterate the hands are not for hitting rule much calmer and more efficiently, and for the most part, without resentment. And I can reason with my kids, rather than lecture. I can remember that they are just kids, and kids make a lot of mistakes.
When I'm dealing with adults, I can speak more calmly, try to see things from their perspective better, be more empathetic. But, I find it much more difficult to remove myself from the situation and take the breather I need when I'm dealing with another adult. I need to work on that.
What the breather enables me to do is to take a minute to detach from the intense emotion of the moment. Whether dealing with my children or otherwise, I can ask myself the important questions like:
- Do they really know that this is not okay?
- Have we told them, or am I expecting them to just know?
- If they truly do know, do they actually have the emotional maturity or impulse control to follow this rule?
- Is this too critical to simply overlook and let go of?
If the answers to these questions really are, yes, then consequences are reasonable.
But if the answer to any one of them is, no, as it very often is, then we need to fill the gaps for our kiddos.
We need to share with them what and why about the incident is not acceptable.Which includes our expectations regarding respect and courtesy. We need to equip them with alternatives, and tools to deal with their big feelings which often are expressed through unpleasant behaviors. And we need to practice and talk about those things again, and again, and again, until they have it mastered. Or at least are making praiseworthy attempts. But most important, we must model what we wish them to display. My kids yell at each other, because I yell at them, plain and simple. I do a lot of apologizing for this and it is a constant struggle for me.
The exact same steps are necessary for navigating the world of adult relationships as well.
When a friend, spouse, or random human offends us, the above steps are just as important. We need to ask ourselves the same questions.
If the answers are yes, then consequences are reasonable. Though obviously taking a different form than we would with our children, but the basis is still the same. Perhaps the consequence is as simple as not entrusting them with certain information (if, for example, they cannot seem to keep private things private), or perhaps it means asking to speak to an individual's superior and letting them handle the remainder of the situation. But, inevitably at times, it might mean having to distance ourselves from a relationship, in extreme cases even ending it, or severely restricting interaction.
We should be deeply honest with ourselves however. Because, more often than not, the answer to at least one of those questions is no. In all relationships, with children or adults, we don't like the answer to be no. A no to any of those questions means that we are responsible to take action. Like being more specific about what we want instead of "dropping hints". We bear partial blame. We are not "right." And no one likes to be "wrong".
If we allow others to take the fall though, especially our children or others that we love, that is a much greater grievance than failing to show the humility to tell someone, 'it's my fault, too.'
But often, it simply comes down to a difference in how we view things. And like it or not, others are entitled to their own view point, even when it differs from our own. Even our children. And most especially, if we are willing to treat others in the community with respect regarding their views, we are exponentially more responsible to be good stewards of the views of those we love. Whether we agree with them or not. And one of the hardest things to do can be to compromise our own view. Especially, when we are convinced that we are right. But we must model how we want others to treat us, even if they don't.
Not a single one of us can follow these steps every time, all the time. We all have moments where we fail. Sometimes we flat out go down in flames. Days where we falter. People that we hurt.
Our relationships are not forged nor necessarily damaged by these failing moments, but rather by how we choose to move forward after they occur.
Will we accept our part, make apologies, and offer consolation to mend the hurt?
Will we choose to provide as much information and assistance as needed to help those we love succeed? Will we be a good model of what we are asking of others?
Will we choose to find positives to encourage, rather than gnaw on each others annoying flaws? And be determined to treat one another with dignity and respect no matter what?
As parents, will we provide gentle reminders, redirection, and reassurance as our children stumble along the pitted and rocky path of growing up? And demonstrate through our actions how to care for others?
As people, partners, or perfect strangers, will we choose to be a positive in another's experience, realizing that no matter what we think we know, we never fully know each other's stories, pains, or past? Will we choose to yield in spite of having a clear shot? Will we chose to act with love rather than malice?
We have the power to inspire, to motivate, and to comfort. But those choices take much more dedicated effort than criticizing, humiliating, or judging someone.
Do I have the courage to be wrong...to forgive?
Each time we try, we prove that...failing moments, does not a failure make.
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