I upset my kid. How can I turn our relationship around? — Marnie, Cambridge, MN
“WHO THREW MY graph paper out of the window?”
I peered down at him from the scene of the crime, frightened already by the purse of his lips and the paper in his hand.
“Who threw my graph paper out of the window?”
His voice bit hard into the clear, spring air — shattering my Sunday serenity in much the same way that management had shattered the trade union strikes, leaving my dad jobless, twice.
“This costs money.”
“It wasn’t me, Dad.”
He’d had to rethink, retrain, start over. So now he lived far away — a middle-aged man come student — while my mother sewed home-made clothes, grew garden vegetables and counted every copper.
“Sorry Dad, I don’t know.”
The look he threw at me exploded through the outside wall, hit me full in the chest and crumpled my 9-year-old confidence as completely as the graph paper he clutched. I backed away from the window, retreated hastily to my bedroom and hoped that the worst was over. It wasn’t. The vicious bang of a door followed by the sounds of accelerating steps like pistol shots on the staircase announced his arrival with my 4-year-old brother in tow.
Once again he asked about the paper, spitting out words like a firing squad at practice. We whimpered our innocence, confused by the anger on his face and the thick strip of wood that he gripped.
Furiously, he pushed us down onto my bed and ordered us to pull down our pants. That bare-bottomed indignity burned deeper than the sting of the stick on our butts and with a surge of righteous courage I yelled back at him: “Leave my brother alone!”
Of course, he read my words as an admission of guilt and that just added fuel to his fire. Then those months of study and worry and stress came thwacking down on our tender skin until, finally, my brother sobbed out his sorry story.
We were confined to our room for the rest of the day and, while I listened to my brother’s tears through the wall, I fumed about the unfairness of it all. When I was finally released, I crept downstairs and waited silently for an apology. But my father just stared at the television set and didn’t say a word.
Sometimes parents get things wrong. Sometimes we (parents) get them very wrong. We walk out on our spouses and kids. And never go back. We refuse to attend the wedding — or worse — turn the wedding into a fisticuff free-for-all. We shout and argue, say the wrong thing, don’t say enough, or say nothing at all. We take sides, make excuses, blame and disappoint. Sometimes our kids ask why we became parents. And sometimes we wonder ourselves. You see, parenting doesn’t come with a manual. It depends upon us caring enough to do the right thing. And acknowledging and apologizing when we don’t.
Of course, as adults we don’t like to apologize to our kids, but we should. An apology admits wrongdoing, provides a vehicle through which we can mend wounded hearts and empowers our children with an opportunity to forgive us, or not — which soothes ruffled spirits. As my daughter said, “Mum, when you apologize to me, you give me respect!” And surely even the littlest soul deserves respect.
So, how do we apologize to our kids? Here are some suggestions:
- Calm Spirits — Create a healing environment with calming music (try the classical channel) and take the sting out of your own tail by breathing deeply or saying a prayer. When you and your environment are harmonious, you are ready to offer your child the best of you — an open heart, listening ear and humble spirit — and that will ensure that you are emotionally present to the needs of your child.
- Hold Healing Hands — Whether your child is 3 or 13, you have size and authority on your parenting side. To instill trust, seat yourself in a way that puts you and your child eye to eye and ask if you can hold their hand. The hands contain chakras, and when you are focused on love, your palms emanate healing energy for a healing touch that can help soothe and calm your child.
- Be Honest — Focus on your behavior — what you said or did — and name it. Be honest and empathize with your child. Say how you think you made them feel. Did you upset them? Anger them? Humiliate them? Were you dismissive, unfair or cruel? And let your kids correct you, if you call it wrong.
- Be Authentic — Use those two little words, “I’m sorry” — and mean it. Children want to be loved by you, and your heartfelt apology can become a symbol of that love.
- Be Respectful — Invite your child to talk about how they feel. Listen from the heart and validate your child’s feeling. And if you find yourself cringing, accept the criticism and learn from it. Explain to your child how you will do it differently next time and ask what they think might help. By inviting feedback, you help build trust. And don’t be surprised if your child comes up with a good idea or two, for children are quite insightful.
- Ask for Forgiveness — Finally, ask for forgiveness but don’t press for it. That opens up a sacred space in which your child is empowered to forgive when they are ready to heal and move on.
Beverly Engel (Psychology Today) says that an apology is “a way of showing respect and empathy for the wronged person…it has the ability to disarm others of their anger…and if done sincerely and effectively, it can undo the negative effects of (detrimental) actions.” So reach out with an apology to your kids today, tomorrow or whenever they deserve one and know that your relationship will result in a healed heart, soothed mind and uplifted spirit!