This blog, among other things is about parenting, but NOT parenting advice. I hate to use the word advice because it might lead someone to think that I’m in some way qualified to give it. I’m not. I am, however, quite qualified to share my experiences, of which I have many, due to my advanced age and the large number of kids running around my house. I learn a lot from those experiences. There is a lot of trial and error to parenting. I like to think I get things right for the most part, and when I do I feel it’s my duty to pass it on. But the truth is, I make a mess of things quite frequently. I make mistakes, but I learn lessons from those mistakes, too. Writing about my failures can be humbling, but there is value in sharing them with you in the hope that perhaps you can avoid making the same mistakes. This is about one of those parenting mistakes. It happened yesterday and it’s a perfect example of how not to parent. More specifically, “What To Do When You Have a Parenting Fail”.
I recently read an article about making the most of the one-on-one time with your kids. The article discussed how those moments were a great way to help you to bond with your children. Having one-on-one time with your kids reminds them that they are important to you and that you love them. Every child wants to know that their parents value them and enjoy spending time with them.
Yesterday, I had one of those opportunities with my oldest son. He recently turned 10 and Carrie had promised him that one of us would take him shopping for new shoes.
I was having a particularly bad afternoon. The kids were in rare bickering form all day, and it had worn me down. I was angry. You know that anger that builds up over time and takes forever to dissipate? Yeah, that’s the type of mood I was in. I needed to escape before my brain exploded, I needed to get out of the house, and I thought taking my son shoe shopping would be a great way to do just that.
A Bad Start
Right away, this trip was doomed. As I said, I was in a particularly bad mood, and no doubt my son picked up on that right away as he listened to my colorful language directed towards the other drivers. I tuned the radio to a sports talk show and hoped that he wouldn’t want to engage in conversation. When he did say something, I answered him with as few words as possible. I’m sure he was having second thoughts about this trip by the time we got to the first traffic light.
On the way to the store, he mentioned that he didn’t get to have a birthday dinner like the other kids, which was true. It was clear that he had been disappointed about it and hoped we could still make it happen for him. I cut him off before he could even get the conversation started. “It’s too expensive to eat out right now” I huffed. The discussion was over.
Lets Just Get this Over With
When we got to the store, I made it all about accomplishing the task. We walked briskly to the shoe aisle and I folded my arms and looked on impatiently, as he went about selecting shoes. He quickly picked a style and grabbed two sizes to try on. He put on both pair of shoes and selected the one that fit. Less than five minutes after walking into the store, he had his shoes.
No outing, no special father and son time, just shoes.
I don’t know if he even liked the shoes that he had chosen or if he just wanted to get the whole thing over with. I’m sure that as far as he was concerned, we could just go home. But we weren’t done. We had a couple more stops to get some things that I wanted. We got in the car, I blasted the radio and yelled at other drivers. He dutifully tagged along as I shopped for the items. On the way home, he tried to ask me some questions, but I was too busy listening to the radio to give him more than one or two word answers. Finally he said “I ask too many questions” and went silent.
We had completed everything on my list. My son only had two things on his mind, get shoes, and spend some quality time with his father. Sure, he got his shoes, but he was denied the more important thing. Me.
I had failed.
I got the wake up call, literally, at 3:45 this morning. The memory of yesterday’s debacle came flooding into my semiconscious brain. I suddenly sat upright, in the dark. I felt terrible. How could I have become so self absorbed that I had ruined an event designed to be the perfect opportunity to spend time with my son and strengthen our relationship? I had let my anger dictate the mood of our trip, and completely wasted a chance to spend real quality time with my son. This outing was an opportunity for me to make his day, to make him feel loved and important, but instead, I left him feeling deflated and disappointed. I had ruined our one-on-time. Yes, he had new shoes, but he certainly didn’t feel important. There is no way he could have, the way I treated him. Now, 10 hours later, there I sat, in the dark, feeling like a failure.
Making It Right
I can’t undo what I did yesterday. We parents can’t just erase the crappy things that we do to our children, but we can make things right. Most likely, my son has put the episode in his rear view mirror, but not me. I have been stewing about this all day. I needed to make things right, as soon a possible.
So, what can I pass on to you, from all of this? At some point, you will undoubtedly make this mistake and you will selfishly hijack a one-on-one kid opportunity. It can’t be avoided, you are human. So here are few tips for when it’s time to make it right.
Recognize The Injury
I don’t consider myself to be a particularly insightful person. I’m not usually smart enough to recognize it when I’m bounding headlong into a regrettable moment with one of my kids. I do seem to be pretty good however, at reflecting on my behavior once I’ve had a chance to simmer down. I can see that I have said or done something that was hurtful.
You don’t need any particular skill to do this, you just need to do be willing to be honest with yourself when you have made a mistake.
Many parents don’t think that you should apologize to your kids when you have said or done something hurtful. They believe it weakens your kid’s perception of your infallibility. I hate to burst their bubble, but their kid’s gave up their faith in their parent’s infallibility a long time ago. What your kids want and need from you is mature and conciliatory behavior. How can they learn empathy, forgiveness and reconciliation if you aren’t willing to demonstrate those traits to them.
It’s OK to let your kids know that you are not perfect and that you made a mistake. Your relationship will always be better when you admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness. What better behavior is there for you to model.
It’s one thing for you to admit to your mistakes and to apologize for them. It’s another thing to demonstrate change and growth. If you continue to say and do things to hurt your children, your apologies will ring hollow. You must be willing to do what it takes to make the necessary changes to your personality in order to stop repeatedly doing the same things over and over.
Make It Up To Them
Tonight, after Carrie got home from work, I pulled my son aside aside, explained how sorry I was for screwing up our shoe shopping trip, and apologized. Then I took him on another on-on-one daddy and son date. I gave him all the attention I could muster up, and told him how much I loved spending time with him and what a cool kid I think he is. I apologized a few more times for good measure. We came home, got on a couch with a bowl of popcorn and a blanket and cuddled through our favorite TV show.
I sure love these kids. More than I ever could have imagined. And I don’t want to look back on their childhoods with a bunch of regrets. So for today, I’m backing up, asking for a re-do, starting over and doing it right. Tomorrow is always a new day. Tomorrow I’ll try to be an even better parent.