“I ruined your morning,” she sobbed from the backseat. “No matter what I decide now, it’s ruined.”
My heart sank.
I was never very good at hiding my emotions. I wear my heart on my sleeve, people tell me. And if my heart isn’t on my sleeve, my inner thoughts are written all over my face.
But in this moment, it wasn’t just my heart on my sleeve or the expression on my face. It was my tone of voice.
I wasn’t yelling. But I may as well have been.
Years ago, I realized that my parenting was doing more harm than good. I was firm. I was demanding. And I was sometimes forceful. In the process, I was steamrolling my daughter’s spirit and teaching her that her voice was unimportant.
I wanted differently for her. So, I sought out on a journey to become a better parent. Through therapy, coaching, journaling, listening to podcasts, researching, reading, and a million other things, I learned how to be a different parent – how to show up in a way that respected my child and forged a happier and healthier mother-daughter relationship. I learned how to parent authentically.
But I’m not perfect at this new way of parenting. In fact, there are countless days when I continue to find myself knee deep in old patterns and outdated thinking. Progress is not linear, I know this. But when your daughter sobs, “I ruined your morning,” it is hard to see that you’re any different than you were at the start of your journey.
Hearing her sobs from the backseat of the car, knowing my regression to my old habits caused those sobs, snapped me out of my anxiety-fueled anger. My anger was not on her. My anger was not because of her. But being a child, she took on my anger as though it was her responsibility, just as I did when I was a child. I needed to do better.
“Chickpea, you did not ruin my morning. Traffic and accidents have ruined my morning. Yes, I am upset, and yes, I will no longer have a morning to myself, but that is not your fault. And I am so so very sorry that I made you feel as though this was your fault.”
To a nine-year-old.
I apologized, and then we put on Wilson Phillip’s “Hold On” and raged sang through the anger.
This is something I never would have considered five years ago. Never once did I think I would be comfortable apologizing to my child. My attitude at the start of this journey to transform my parenting was that the adults are always right. What they say goes. And they never apologize for who they are or how they behave.
But I’ve learned better, and I am teaching my daughter differently. She gets to see the full range of emotion, the fall out, and the repair. I don’t shy away from saying, “I messed up,” and “I am sorry.”
How this can help you
If you’re anything like me, you’ve had days like this, but perhaps you aren’t yet in a place where you can apologize to your children. This particular day was only recently – about six years into my parenting transformation journey. Becoming an authentic parent takes time and practice.
In the past, I never apologized. I honestly believe that a perk of being an adult was that you could do or say whatever you wanted and care little about the impact you had on those around you. After all, that’s how I was raised. The adults were always right, and never once did they stop to think about how their behavior affected the children in their lives.
It took me years of journaling, coaching, and therapy to uncover this message – this idea that the adults were always right – and recognize that it was not, in fact, a fact of life. Once I recognized this as a message I received, I began the work of undoing the damage that message caused.
It is important to recognize that as a parent, you are doing the best you can with the knowledge and resources (both internal and external) that you have. As you learn better, you will begin to do better. Recognizing that you want to do better is the first step in the process of being an authentic parent.
Perhaps you see yourself in this or other stories that I’ve shared. I am evidence that there is hope for a brighter day. There is hope that you, too, can change the way you show up in your life.
For today, when you are certain that you are failing at all things parenting, remind yourself that even when you “screw up,” there is still a chance to show up better.
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