I’ve done some deep diving into how I parent lately and thinking about what I’d want to share with others. One thing keeps popping up for me.
I wonder how many parents apologize to our kids. Society tells us that we are all knowing. That we are the guides, the teachers, the ones who keep our kids from becoming complete jerks. But so much of what is asked of us kind of turns us into jerks as parents, right?
For example, if I teach my kid something or we have an argument and I refuse to let it go because I have to be right because I am the adult, what am I teaching them?
I am no stranger to this situation…a day of chaos and fun, with loads of running, screaming, destruction, play, gets into this body of mine. I’m a relaxer. So much so that on my Mother’s Day write up from my oldest, she said that Mommy loves to “relax on the couch.” At first, I took offense, and then I was like yup! Daddy likes to play and Mommy likes to rest. Both important aspects to living, so I offer no apologies.
But since my body prefers more calm, after a day of kid chaos I am antsy. My skin is jumping and my emotions are running high, only tempered by my patience which is holding on as tight as it can. And, it can rarely last an entire day from wake until bedtime. No matter how much I work that muscle, it’s too much.
So bedtime. I despise bedtime. I actually love it when they go to sleep…hence the relaxing on the couch…but getting these kids to bed is my least favorite part of parenting. Absolute, 100% least favorite. There are moments I love, like cuddles, books, songs, bath time, brushing hair, talking about our days, etc. But when I say goodnight, it’s never goodnight. The baby has learned that they can yell for a few minutes and if I come back in it’s to simply say “it’s bedtime, go to bed.” And then our fight is usually over.
But putting a 6 year old to bed is an epic battle. Within 10 seconds of saying goodnight and walking away, literally the time it takes for me to walk from her room and sit down on the couch, she calls for me.
Sometimes it’s legit, like there is a mosquito in her room. But, usually it’s a quick onset of an upset tummy, she’s scared of the dark in her lit up room, she’s wants an answer to some intellectual question about life or physics, she wants more water, she misses Daddy, she can’t find a stuffed animal that is literally next to her head, she can’t reach a book that is 2 feet from her grasp, she needs tucked in again, or she wants “one more hug and kiss.”
This is when my patience says, “Nope, I’m done, it’s all you anger.” And I usually lose it. I just can’t do it. Sometimes, my patience hangs in there, makes it through. Other times I get frustrated, snap at her, or even yell. And you must think, “Oh it’s justified, what a ridiculous repeating process.” It is.
And also, she is 6 years old, being asked to sleep in a room all by herself. Far away from what she finds safe, away from the two people who she looks to as she navigates the complexity of the life of the day. Then, at night, suddenly she’s on her own. To figure out how to fall back asleep when a shadow scares her, or a weird noise wakes her up.
This is why this is so hard. Co-sleeping is not an option for us, for many reasons I won’t list. And also, I understand. And also I don’t.
So sometimes, I get frustrated and yell. And, the yells don’t match the crime. I get as equally mad at a request for another hug and kiss versus a request for a book that is within her reach.
My butt just wants the couch.
I then go to bed feeling like a complete jerk. She goes to bed thinking I’m mad. Don’t they say never go to bed mad? What if you’re the one who someone is mad at?
I almost always apologize when I feel my anger goes beyond normal frustration at bedtime. In fact, my most common apology is for yelling or getting overly mad at a simple request. When I apologize, I do make it clear that I am not apologizing for feeling frustrated. I want my kids to see emotions as normalized and feeling frustrated in life is normal. And, I also want them to understand that we also take care of people. So I apologize for the impact I create from my frustrations.
And I believe this is different than intention. Of course, I never intend to make her feel sad or upset, but I still do cause that. In the world of anti-racism work, we use this analogy – If I hit you with my car, I maybe didn’t mean to hit you with my car but your leg is still broken. We call it taking care of impact. So my apologies focus on impact. And they occur when I know that the impact doesn’t match my intention. I need her to learn this art of life. That just because you didn’t mean to do something, doesn’t mean that the other person then doesn’t have a right to feelings about it. And this is an essential lesson in how she will walk through life – well, I didn’t mean to have white privilege, but I do so I am paying attention to my impact.
So, how’s it working for me? Bedtime is still shit. But throughout the rest of our relationship it is liberating. I worry so much about what I say and do and whether or not it will screw her up for life. When I opened myself to apologizing to her, I have found that I feel little fear about messing up, or messing her up for life. Instead, I know that we can work together on this messy life and healing our way through the hard parts, as apologizing is a necessary part. And our kids are no less deserving.