The Importance of Telling Your Child "I'm Sorry"
The other night, I lost my cool. I was hungry, my back was killing me, and I was on the second half of a double shift. So when my 3yo called me into his room crying for the 5th time, I couldn't take it anymore...I yelled at him. I told him that he needed to stop crying or a consequence was going to happen. I told him that he did not need the stuffed dog that I couldn't find or the light to be brighter and that his body absolutely did not "have to move" but that it had to sleep. I didn't say this calmly, I didn't say it nicely, and as he wiped the tears off his face, I couldn't help but think "Just go the fuck to sleep already!" Then I stormed out of the room and as his sniffles died down and he *finally* fell asleep, the guilt flooded in. I had been mean.
Being the bully has never been my MO. I handle tantrums with the calm voice of a nun reciting morning prayers. The only time I physically get involved is if another child is at risk of being hurt (i.e. Holding back a kid because he's about to punch another child). I rarely speak first, think second and I'm pretty even keel when it comes to negotiations. But that night I yelled and I said things I didn't mean. I should have offered up another stuffed animal as a consolation prize, I should have adjusted the light to be one hair brighter, and I should have explained that even if his body felt like it needed to move, his brain really needed to recharge and rest. Yes, I am pregnant and tired and hungry and while those are valid reasons for my frustration, they aren't valid excuses for my behavior.
I know a lot of caregivers that have these moments. I know that I'm not alone in my feelings, especially when these moments happen at bedtime. So today, I will apologize. I know that it's easy to dismiss the memory of a child and make yourself feel better because in the morning "they won't even remember what happened." But kids are smart. They might not remember the specifics but they'll remember the feeling. And what's more - so will you. I would rather remind them of that moment so that I can properly apologize than assume that they have no recollection of the matter. I'll explain why I lost my temper and I'll explain my feelings. I'll say that I'm sorry and ask him if he could forgive me. I know that he'll say that he does and then move on to telling me how there's a new episode of Paw Patrol or how he hid under a block in gymnastics. Kids are the ultimate "forgive and forgetters".
It's not about making myself feel less guilty. I've already forgiven myself because we all have hard moments and I'm making amends. It's more about teaching him that adults make mistakes but adults apologize. That's it's ok to reflect on your actions and come back even a day later to say "I'm sorry". I want him to hear the sincerity in my voice and know that when you do apologize, you don't just mumble out the words and then go about your business. I also want him to know that at the end, we hug because my actions weren't about loving him less and that no matter what, we'll always love each other.
Do you have a distinct moment like this? If so, how did you handle it?