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I'm Sorry




We have grown up in a culture where respecting elders for their wisdom and maturity seems paramount and it’s an expectation firmly established in our subconscious. This established hierarchy can make apologizing or repairing a rupture with our kids difficult. Moreover, for most parents who did not receive apologies from their parents, it’s unclear why and how to make amends. 


Most conscious parents do apologize if they realize that they are at fault. That’s a great practice to repair a rupture. It shows kids that there is nothing wrong with apologizing. It also teaches them that everyone makes mistakes and mistakes aren’t the end of the world. Kids also feel valued when parents take the time and effort to apologize to them, showing them that their relationship matters. Further, it restores confidence in kids that fairness is independent of age.

 

We all recognize that our kids are developmentally less mature than us so it’s likely that they will make more mistakes than us. However, when they do make those mistakes and create a rupture, a lot of the time, we end up escalating and widening that rupture! Of course, when kids make a mistake or violate a boundary, if parents can stay calm and regain their connection with their kids, that’s the best-case scenario. But the majority of the time, when kids violate a boundary or are disrespectful, our ‘normal’ reaction is to lose our cool and yell, blame, or shame our kids for their mistakes. This is because our entire generation and the generations before us have been raised without emotion regulation skills. We are so focused on how wrong our kid’s behavior is that our harsh reaction seems justified. 

Let’s go over this with an example: Imagine that you bought your child a Christmas gift and your child upon opening the gift said, “This is such a lame gift. I hate it”. Hearing this can activate you and you might react with something like, “You know what … you are so ungrateful. You don’t deserve any Christmas gift!” And your kid (who is also activated) in turn, may scream, “I don’t care.” and stomp out of that space. This reaction further aggravates parents because parents feel that not only are their kids not able to see the mistake they made, but they are further arguing or shutting themselves down instead of facing it and expressing their mistake. 


As parents, we are all familiar with this kind of disconnection from our kids. So the question is how do we handle it? Most parents feel lost and confused at this point. These are the times we feel that we are not good parents. And while we suffer from disconnection, frustration, and disappointment with our kid, here’s what’s going on with our kid. 

 Our kid is also in a state of acute distress because their parent made them feel that they were disappointing and not good enough. How does a kid traverse this difficult terrain to come back to feeling safe? The most common strategy that kids use at a time like this is self-blame. Even though they may outwardly express acute anguish against their parents, subconsciously, they self-blame. Self-blame is an adaptive strategy because internalizing flaws and wrongdoing allows them to feel safe. How is that? For kids to feel safe, they have to believe that they are in safe hands. Since kids are under their parent’s shelter and care, they subconsciously accept that their parents are right about them as flawed. Because if they believe that their parents are wrong, then how can they continue to survive in an unsafe place? While self-blame helps kids move through childhood, it starts hurting them in adulthood. Core beliefs such as ‘I am not good enough’, and ‘I am not lovable’, impede our kids from exploring their full potential. None of us want that for our kids. 


Now what can we do to help our kids change that internal story? And how do we teach them what is the right behavior and what is not? We start by first bringing ourselves to a place of calm. If we rush to restore the connection with our kid without fully calming ourselves first, we can experience a push and pull within where we want to restore connection but are not able to overcome being upset with our child’s response. This is when a parent may say, “I wouldn’t have reacted the way I did, had you been more considerate”. Such a response continues to shame the kids and will not elicit any repair. 

It’s possible to calm ourselves fully when we change the story we are telling us about ourselves. You can remind yourself that the story of  ‘I am not a good parent’ isn’t true. The true story is that I am disappointed with the harsh way I reacted to my child and this behavior doesn’t define me nor does my child’s behavior define my child. Bringing some objectivity helps us view the story differently. It can help us tap into some self-compassion.  

Once we feel calm, we can acknowledge to our child how we feel about reacting harshly towards them. You can admit, “I am sorry I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did. Your response to my gift hurt me but that doesn’t justify my reaction. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. And you are not at fault for how I reacted.” Saying this teaches our kids how our harsh reaction was a problem behavior and it's not okay. It also shows our love and vulnerability, helping them replace their inner story of self-blame with a story of support and self-trust. 


Personally, in my experience, the majority of the times that I’ve initiated such a repair, my kids have also reflected on their behavior and apologized even though the intention was not to make them apologize! Ultimately, the goal is to feel a restored connection with our child. When you and your kid are calm, you can also lovingly collaborate with your kid on what kind of a response can serve both you and your child, in case a similar future incident arises. Collaborating and making a plan for the future teaches them acceptable behaviors. 

As conscious parents, we try to do the best we can and often our best is not good enough. We may end up saying or doing things we shouldn’t to our kids. So, instead of beating ourselves or our kids over it, we can initiate the repair and restore love and connection. 

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