Part I: Apologize (Less)
I still recall with great tenderness the woman I became upon the arrival of my firstborn. Suddenly dependent, physically limited by recovery from birth, exhaustion and my inexperience with the quotidian tasks of caring for a newborn, hormonally irrational, new in my marriage…this fragile woman had none of the competence or independence by which I defined myself professionally for so many years. Yet, in those first two weeks before I slipped on some Baby Blues and skidded into a downward spiral of post-partum depression and marital confusion, I had a laugh like none other. My newborn son, belly to belly with me, delighted in the great rolling laughter that shook through his mama from her breath to her bones.
I still have days when I feel like I have lost my smile. A grimness settles over me when I know I have deeply failed my children. I recently read that having a reason to rage does not give me the right. I know this. But there are days when I still do not know what to do with the rage that overwhelms me when my children choose escalation and I can’t unstick the conflict. I’m not Cast-Iron-Skillet crazy, but I can tell from the look in my children’s eyes that even Get-to-Your-Room-Now-and-Stay-There-So-Help-Me! disturbs and intrigues them in ways I would prefer not to repeat. They simply don’t realize what I am trying to save when I-Have-Had-Enough!When I hear the distress call of another new mother, I want to cradle my own newness – my questions and doubts, my failures, my frustrations, my vulnerability – I want to cradle myself in the palms of my hands, lean down and whisper what I know into my own ears.
You have the power in you right now to change this moment. You don’t need anyone to save you, give you advice, or solve your problem for you. You don’t need to wait for more money, or more time. You don’t need anyone else to change or do anything differently. You can unstick yourself. You can change this moment. And if you miss the chance to change this moment, you can change the next one. You have the power in you to choose differently, anytime you want.
When my children are screaming and kicking or my Husband’s huffing around, it’s sometimes hard to connect with the immanent, and the goddess within remains silent. In those cases, I walk to the back of the house and consult the list I have posted on the inside of my vanity: Ten Things I Can Do For Myself; or, Alternatives to Killing the Children.
1. Apologize (less)
Those days when I lose it are great opportunities to model contrition. I want my children to be able to take responsibility for their mistakes not simply by admitting them, but by allowing themselves to feel how they have hurt another, and make reparations. I believe in the power of apology, especially for the person in error. I love how Randy Pausch in his book The Last Lecture describes the three components of a genuine apology: 1) Take responsibility for what you did that was wrong; 2) Acknowledge the ways you have hurt the other person; 3) Offer reparation or ask how you can make it better. I especially appreciate his reminder that an apology should never be offered in the hopes of obtaining one in return.
It is not hard, once I have separated myself from my emotional reaction (and my little button-pushers), to see where I went wrong. I do not hesitate to admit my fault or to take back my mistakes. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you, even though I was angry.” “I think I might have scared you when I dumped you on your bed for a time out. I’m sorry if I was too rough.” “I should have given myself a break when I felt myself getting angry.” “I was wrong to take this away from you. It’s unfair that I didn’t give you a chance to change your behavior first.”
I sometimes make the mistake of apologizing too much. The act of apology carries two kinds of power. One is the power within to change myself through remorse and compassion. The other is the power between people: to apologize or not, to forgive or not, to expect apology or not. I sometimes find myself saying “I’m sorry,” when what I really mean is: “Excuse me,” or “I just want to us to let this go and move on,” or “It’s more important to me just enjoy this time with you right now than to keep fighting about this,” or even, “Screw you!” My urgency to remain connected to others becomes compelling in a conflict, to the extent that I sometimes take responsibility for errors that are not really mine, and do not insist on reparation or acknowledgment from those who have hurt me.
So when harmony disintegrates around here these days, I will often apologize to restore balance. But now I hesitate less to ask for apology from others as well. Once I have made genuine apology for my hurtful behavior, I can still hold others accountable for theirs: “I shouldn’t have yelled and lost my temper. I bet that was scary. What can I do to help you feel better?….Next time, will you please listen the first time I ask you clean up?” I don’t necessarily expect to get an apology when I tell Five that “I felt stressed out when you chased me around the house screaming instead of taking a time out when I asked you to calm down.” But I do feel better about defending my own boundaries and defining my expectations for how I am treated in my own home. When I don’t feel forced to accept the unapologetic abuse that sometimes comes my way, I am a better mom.
- No Apologies (melissabraunstein.wordpress.com)
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