mom and daughter holding hands imageIn my post, Apologizing — a skill of a masterful parent, I wrote about the importance of parents making apologies to their children. I emphasized that apologizing helped parents “cultivate a long-term, respect-based relationship with our children,” in part because apologies foster respect, connection, acceptance, trust, and freedom. Though I explained that the second part of the 3-part apology process I use was to “commit to a new/different course of action,” there’s more I want to share.

A not so glorious parenting experience

The parent coaching that I do is based in what I describe as heart-led parenting. This is not a behavior so much as it is a belief, energy, intention, and way of being. To be a heart-led parent means using our own hearts as our primary guide. I mention this because as a heart-led parent myself, I know that the behaviors I want to cultivate or eradicate often don’t come about with a quick strategy or one-time action. Let me give you an example.

Last week I had mopped the floors of our home and I was enjoying them being free of the grime that can accumulate from the active lives of three people and two cats. When my daughter came home after preschool, she asked for buttered toast which I gladly made. When presented with the toast, however, she asked for more butter. I had put on a substantial amount of butter but much of it had melted by the time my daughter came to the table to eat. I added more butter, albeit with a seed of irritation beginning to grow.

Though I added large butter chunks, my daughter wasn’t satisfied. She began demanding even more butter in places where no visible butter could be seen. My seed of irritation was becoming a sprout of frustration. I dug in my heels asserting that there was plenty of butter already (including the melted-in variety) and said she needed to eat the toast as it was.

Fast forward to a couple of minutes into the crying and wailing and my daughter is carrying her plate of toast into the living room where she accidentally spills it on the clean floor. In her upset, after she put the toast back on her plate, she used her stockinged-feet to rub the butter into the wood. I was furious and swiftly marched to the living room and roughly yanked the socks off both of her feet. Thank goodness I finally “woke up” at that point and gently took my daughter into my arms and began my apology for the hurtful and unloving way I’d behaved.

If apologizing were enough, the story might have ended there. But apologies are simply the first part of our path to change. If parents use an apology as their last step, they’re missing a real opportunity and also will likely find themselves repeating the behavior that led to their apology in the first place.

“Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time.”

~ Brené Brown

Changing our behaviors often requires a willingness to dig deep

Many parents likely might have had a reaction similar to mine, specifically feeling irritation, frustration, anger, and resentment toward a child who is “being unreasonable.” The problem is that our emotions, judgments, and actions arise from our beliefs (and often from incidents that our reptilian brains view as similar to experiences from our past). So rather than recognizing that I had labeled my daughter as “unreasonable” and that this was merely a belief, I acted as if “unreasonable” was a fact. Of course I had other beliefs confused with facts too:

  • my daughter should have been satisfied with what I’d given her,
  • my daughter should appreciate that I’d put on lots of butter,
  • my daughter would eat the toast if she cared about me,
  • my daughter certainly wouldn’t rub butter into the floor if she loved me.

Holding all these beliefs as true (which is the way our tricky minds work), my brain automatically threw in other beliefs (many of which reside in my subconscious ready to play back at opportune times):

  • if I don’t set a limit my daughter will never be satisfied with what she’s given,
  • I have to stand up for myself otherwise people will walk all over me,
  • no one appreciates me.

Basically, by not catching all this internal BS, I was working up an internal storm front that would come blasting out in my living room and leave me feeling guilty and my daughter feeling sad and confused.

“We sit with our thoughts and emotions in a nonreactive manner, having no need to dump them onto our external reality. In this way, we free ourselves and others from the emotional entanglement that comes from being in the clutches of our past conditioning.”

~ Shefali Tsabary

Learning from “bad” moments to change ourselves and our patterns

Though I did patch things up with my daughter by apologizing, I knew that preventing future Hurricane Mommy’s required more work. So the next day (after reacting with similar frustration to my cats “preventing” me from wrapping up a delicate outdoor plant against a coming winter storm), I sat down to do some mental excavations. Without going into all the detail, I’ll share the overview of my experience (feel free to use this after your own “bad parenting” moments).

  1. I identified what I’d been believing during the situation with my daughter (much of it shown above).
  2. I used my objective mind to then sort out fact from fiction. For instance, while it’s true that I wanted my daughter to eat the toast as I’d prepared it, it was not true that she “should” do this nor was it true that her eating it had any relationship to her love for me.
  3. I noticed what I was really longing for. In this case it was ease/simplicity, respect for the efforts I make to nurture my family, clarity on what’s important to my daughter. Once I knew these things, it’s easier to (a) ask for what I want directly from others or (b) give it to myself.
  4. I chose some supportive actions to take based on what I’d learned. In my case, I chose to do tapping/EFT on 1 of the false beliefs I’d uncovered (in #1 above). I also chose to do a new daily practice related to my own self-care and awareness. And I chose to apologize to my cats.

Though taking these steps doesn’t mean I won’t overreact in the future or get steered off course by my misleading mind, I know from experience that it does positively affect my life. When I take the time to dig under the events of my life, I find fertile soil for growing myself in new ways. Having chosen to walk the path of the heart-led parent, this self-examination is both a great act of self-love and a vital practice to co-creating a sacred, loving, respectful, and joy-filled family.

By the way, if you wonder what kind of parent coach I could be if I can behave so unlovingly with my daughter, I’ll tell you. I’m authentic. I know parenting highs and lows personally. I understand how challenging it can be to change oneself and I also know how freeing it is to re-create oneself as a parent and person. Rather than being an expert, I coach parents by being their partner in discovery, visioning, dreaming, and co-creating. I support the parents I coach by helping them see themselves and their children more clearly and objectively; asking deep and provocative questions; giving them unconditional love and also the insistent encouragement to make the changes that will help bring about the family life they dream of.

Also in Apologizing parents are good for families

The series covers apologies by parents: I cover how to make a sincere apology, how apologies nurture sustainable parent-child relationships, and how to change our behavior that led to our apology in the first place.

  1. Apologizing — a skill of a masterful parent
  2. Apologies aren’t enough (from parents)

View the entire series