This past weekend I shouted at my kids a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. It was always destined to be a stressful weekend. My husband away for work, I was left solo to face six soccer games in three different counties over two days, two sleepovers, a camp reunion and a bat mitzvah. I identify as a supremely competent person. I take pride in my ability to handle the complex juggling act that is the reality of parenting four children, but this weekend really put my high-level executive functioning to the test. I was determined to pull it off with aplomb. Let’s just say, I pulled it off, but aplomb was nowhere in sight.
I successfully achieved the parenting version of batting for the cycle in which I managed to overreact and shout unnecessarily at each of my four children over the course of the weekend. When my eight year old accidentally knocked a shoe box off the bench in our hallway, hardly a hanging offense, I yelled at him so loudly that my other kids emerged from their bedrooms to look at me in shock. I screamed at my daughter after she asked me to lay out the schedule for our complicated day: “Can you just give me 5 minutes, just 5 minutes, to myself to figure out your brothers’ schedules?” And then, when she started apologizing because I was so irate, I screamed at her for apologizing. A real veteran move for someone who runs a girls’ empowerment program.
My next parenting fail emerged over text with my second son who had gotten minimal playing time in his soccer game because he missed a practice. I sent him an unsupportive and mildly sarcastic text asking whether he’d addressed this issue with his coach while sitting the bench, which earned me his response: “Was that meant to be a joke? If it was, it wasn’t funny.”
And finally, I laid into my oldest son in epic proportion for not knowing how to find his way around a toaster oven. Maybe if I stopped doing everything for him, he might learn.
How do you recover from being a crappy parent to each of your children in the span of two days? My first thought was, of course, I have scarred them all for life. My second thought was, I need to apologize to them. Anyone who knows me or knows Dynamo Girl will attest to our core belief that apologies are only reserved for situations that warrant them. Trust me — all four of my children deserved my apology.
My youngest son I apologized to immediately while the tears were still welling up in his eyes and had already started to drop down his cheeks. What did he say when I apologized? “It’s OK Mommy.” KNIFE TO THE HEART!!! I explained to him that what I did, exploding over nothing, was not OK and when someone apologizes for doing something mean, his first response does not have to be: “It’s OK.” I told him he has permission to still feel angry or hurt by me, even though I apologized.
To my daughter I apologized for shouting at her when she asked a completely reasonable question about our schedule. I explained to her that much of my energy this weekend was taken up with the marathon of her camp reunion events, causing me to feel tremendous pressure and guilt at not spending more time with her brothers.
To my son, whom I basically cyber-bullied, I realized I should actually call him to apologize instead of continuing the conversation over text like a 14-year-old. I told him I was sorry for being unkind and confessed that I had completely mishandled the situation regarding his soccer game. I made it clear that really I was frustrated both that he hadn’t played much and that I hadn’t been around to help him manage a complicated challenge.
When I finally got around to apologizing to my oldest son, he simply said: “No problem Mom. You always freak out when Dad has been away too long.”
I had visions of showing my kids that I could ace this hectic weekend without breaking a sweat. I imagined myself moving seamlessly from carpool to carpool, from game to game, handling every challenge with ease and competence. So what did I actually show my kids this weekend? Because it certainly wasn’t ease and competence. In my epic parenting fail, I inadvertently stumbled upon the opportunity to teach my kids some valuable lessons about mistakes and apologies, stress and anger, love and relationships. To my youngest child I was able to show the value of apologizing as soon as we know we have hurt someone, while on the flip side, our own response to an apology does not always have to be “It’s OK.” I modeled for my tween son how harmful it is to use texting for conversations that are better had in person. I demonstrated for my daughter that doing a lot for one relationship can create stress and come at the expense of other relationships. For my oldest son, I reinforced his understanding that parenting is a stressful endeavor and parents can’t always be cool under pressure. And for myself, I realized that as much as I want to always be utterly competent, it is time to give up that dream. I will yell. I will overreact. I will fail. But hopefully, I will also teach my children through weekends like this one, the value of making mistakes and owning up.