Yes, it’s true, it’s the human condition – we are imperfect. (I like to say that we are perfectly imperfect)
It doesn’t mean we just resign ourselves to reactive behaviors. We should do what we can to learn to manage our emotions and our behaviors (Go here and here for great articles about how to snap less in the first place). But, when we are reactive or handle something poorly, the worst thing we can do is to beat ourselves up.
A little guilt can be a powerful motivator and can help us see what we didn’t like about our behavior (“I made a mistake”). But when we shift into shame, we start feeling badly about ourselves (“I am a mistake”). Read more about the difference between shame and guilt here.
You can see that when we beat ourselves up, we have shifted into shame and it gets very hard to see clearly from this vantage point – we sort of spiral into self-criticism and lose sight of the situation. We lose sight of the reality —> that we can recover.
What do we do instead?
First, we have to notice that we messed up. Usually that happens pretty quickly. As soon as the dust settles we are able to tap into what we could have done or said better or differently that would have resulted in a better outcome for all involved. Spend a moment examining how you would have liked to have responded. Our guilt over our behavior can give us a new perspective.
Next, we remind ourselves of our humanity and that we all make mistakes. Practice self-forgiveness and self-kindness. Talk to yourself as you would if you were talking to a friend who was telling you this story. You might ask him/her to step up and take responsibility but I doubt you would criticize and name call as you might towards yourself. Literally take a moment to be gentle towards yourself and have self-compassion. Take a nice deep breath and relax. This process helps you to gain composure and get ourselves out of the fear space (fear of having made a mistake, fear of loss of connection with our child, fear of the future).
The first two steps are in preparation for the last step which is the critical piece that repairs the relationship:
We ask for a do-over.
We physically go to the person, let’s say it’s our child, and we ask for a do-over. If he/she says yes, we actually make believe that the situation is taking place again and we respond as we wished we would have responded and our child gets a chance to respond differently too. You might share why you reacted the way you did and what was going on in your mind (fears and worries perhaps) that triggered you to respond the way you did. An apology is likely necessary. This process helps your child understand why it happened and why human beings sometimes say things and do things that they later wish they could “do-over”. It’s also time to listen to your child to better understand what is going on for him/her and how your behavior impacted him/her. Engage in a dialogue about it.
By the way, this does not have to be a big production. It could happen in 2 minutes right after the incident.
NOTE: If your child says no (which is more likely for the tweens and teens) tell them that you would like a moment to tell them what you wish you had said and done and how you can see what you said or did was not helpful or was perhaps hurtful. We reflect together and you apologize for your behavior. Again, you can explain what was going on for you that triggered you and listen to how it impacted them. Keep it short.
This is authentic connection.
This might not be easy for you. It takes time to feel comfortable to open up this way. But it’s amazing how things can get cleared up and everyone can feel better when we bring things out into the open. Our kids are great at making up stories (assumptions) about what we mean when we say what we say. Generally they make up stories that are not good for their self-concept (including blaming themselves). This process allows them to hear the truth (which is not as bad as the stories they made up), process the situation with a much better understanding, and more completely move through their emotions. The result is less emotional baggage for them and for us. And if we do this thoroughly, our guilt will go away.
And what did you teach your kids?
- How to take responsibility for our behaviors.
- How to mend relationships (and that relationships can be repaired)
- How to use a little bit of guilt as a motivator towards choosing behaviors you are more proud of.
- That you, as their parent, are trustworthy, accountable and dependable.
- Mistakes happen – you are always safe in our family and you don’t have to hide when you make a mistake.
- When we talk openly and vulnerably, we can find a place to connect and feel closer, even when discussing something difficult and uncomfortable.
Refer to blog post about what Great Parents Do Well for some validation on why it’s good to admit your mistakes.
What’s your experience with this? Do you do do-overs? Share in the comments below!