How to Repair Mistakes
There are no perfect parents.
If there was ever a relevant mantra for the modern parent, this would be it: There are no perfect parents. Say it a few times to yourself until you actually start believing it. I know that it seems obvious and yet we all act like there really are perfect parents. Pretty much all mainstream media would have us believe it. The average sitcom deals with mistakes with a touching moment at the end when all is resolved with a soft apology and a hug. They even look perfect when they are saying sorry!
The truth is that very few parents are brave enough to talk about the parenting mistakes they have made to even their best friends. Our culture seems to promote parenting perfection as the norm and has very low tolerance for anything else.
The good news is this: Mistakes are a gift.
Mistakes Are a Gift
I know that it doesn’t seem that way in the moment. The child is upset, your reactions aren’t working, and your internal observer is scratching his head wondering how you are going to get out of this mess in the first place. Some typical reactions to mistakes is to be really hard on yourself and supplicating to your child (passive approach) or to act like you aren’t making a mistake at all and drive through even when your child is clearly discouraged or melting down (autocratic approach). Both of these reactions ignore the opportunity to set in place generations of peacekeeping in your family. The gift is another opportunity to get good at repairing mistakes.
Get Good at Repairing Mistakes
Get really good. Practice all the time and not just at home. Repairing your mistakes might be the most important parenting practice in your arsenal. Put it alongside GEMS , family meetings, and encouragement as high impact and connecting practices that last a lifetime.
There are a number of ways to think about this. Every time you make a mistake, it’s an opportunity to:
- model responsibility and self-compassion
- connect with and get closer to your child
- work on the relationship
- teach them loving ways to demonstrate an apology and clean things up.
Three Steps to Repairing mistakes
There are three steps to repairing mistakes.
- First, notice that you made a mistake in the first place, and remove all blame from the situation.
- Second, acknowledge the mistake openly and their feelings.
- Third, resolve the situation by giving a make-up and/or doing what it takes to clean up whatever mess you have made. This may include an authentic apology but actions communicate regret way more than words.
Step 1: First, notice that you made a mistake in the first place, and remove all blame from the situation.
Noticing that you made a mistake can be a challenge. Mistakes rarely happen in calm situations where we are totally focused on parenting. Instead we make mistakes when we are rushed and not being present such as yelling at your children to get them out the door in the morning.
Listen to your intuition. Is that voice in your head saying that this is not going well? Listening to your internal voice will give you a chance to pause and assess the situation. Press the pause button. A ten second pause might be just enough for you to notice that you are making a mistake. Look at the reaction of your child. Is her reaction telling you that she doesn’t feel safe, loved, cared for, or acknowledged?
Noticing that you have made a mistake is always hindsight. A natural reaction is to blame. Some parents blame to justify and save face. “If you had shared your toys, I would not have been upset with you”. Some parents blame themselves and have no self-compassion, creating a really confusing situation for their children and an over-the-top, self-deprecating apology. Blame never helps and most of the time makes things way worse.
Step 2: Acknowledge the mistake openly and acknowledge their feelings.
With practice, this is the easy part. Once you have noticed that you’ve made a mistake, take quick action to acknowledge the mistake and, when appropriate, how they feel. An example might be “I just yelled at you, and you became really sad. That was not okay; I made a mistake.”
Step 3: Resolve the situation by giving a make-up and/or doing what it takes to clean up whatever mess you have made. This may include an authentic apology but actions communicate regret way more than words.
A make-up is a simple and very important way to repair the mistake through your actions, and not just your words. Saying sorry is okay to do, but becomes very empty if overused. A make-up not only shows you are sorry, it also creates a closer connection between you and your child after a mistake has been made. A very simple one is a back scratch or rub. You probably already know what your child enjoys doing with you so, that may be a go to make up. Here are a few suggestions:
- Read them a book
- Help them with something
- Give them a big hug
- Play with them, play a game with them
One important aspect about make-ups is that they are not punishments for the person who’s made the mistake. If it was you has made the mistake, don’t offer to do anything that you really don’t want to do. Your child will pick up on that. And don’t allow your child to devise something that will get back at you.
There are no perfect parents. There aren’t even near-perfect parents. Instead of trying to be perfect and hiding your mistakes, celebrate them as gifts that give you the opportunity to teach and a chance to get closer with your son or daughter.