It’s Friday night and You. Are. Exhausted. You’ve done your best to keep it together all week and you feel as if you barely have enough energy to take care of yourself, let alone your kids. They’re pushing back about seemingly everything and complaining about what you’re putting on their dinner plates. Before you know it, you blow your top, yelling, “Fine! The garbage disposal would be more grateful to eat these chicken nuggets!” as you dump them into the sink and storm off to your bedroom. On your way out of the kitchen, you see the surprised look on your children’s faces. Before you even reach the hallway, you feel a mix of shame and regret rising up. “What should I do now?” you wonder.
If this sounds familiar, please know you’re not alone! Ruptures happen to the best of us and even the most kind, gentle, and compassionate parents lose their cool sometimes (we especially appreciate how model parents Tina Payne Bryson and Dan Siegel offer examples of times they flipped their lids in their parenting book No-Drama Discipline).
Rupture and Repair
Ruptures, which are misunderstandings, conflicts, or arguments that cause a feeling of disconnection, occasionally happen in all relationships and are a normal part of being in community and family. But repeated ruptures with no attempt at repair can create ongoing feelings of disconnection and a lack of safety. Repair, which is the practice of coming back together and reconnecting with someone after a conflict or challenge, is one of the most powerful and important tools in our parenting toolbox.
Of course, we can do our best to prevent or resolve conflicts before they arise. But since we can’t always prevent conflicts, we can use the repair process to show our children that no one is perfect, including parents. We can also model the process of taking ownership of our own emotions and having accountability for our behaviors. These are important social-emotional skills that will serve our kids well in all areas of their lives. How important is repair for relational health? Here’s Slumberkins Co-Founder, Kelly Oriard’s take: “Repair creates deeper emotional connection and trust in the relationship, which is what allows us to connect and grow together.”
Putting It Into Practice
So, how do you actually do repair? Every situation is different and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method, but we like these steps that provide some general guidance:
We cannot help our children emotionally unless we are emotionally regulated ourselves. The work always starts from within.
Try taking three slow, deep breaths together. Repair happens best when everyone is in a calm state.
Put words to what your child experienced when you lost your temper, and/or let them voice their own feelings. This step helps them feel understood.
Saying sorry is an important thing to model. It shows strength, leadership, and facilitates connection to your child.
Depending on the original problem, there may still be an issue to resolve, or there may be a problem to prevent in the future. Make a plan together to work on having things go differently next time.
Let’s revisit that Friday night lid-flip scene. Here’s what a repair might look like as you walk back into the kitchen to find your stunned children looking at you, wide-eyed:
“I’m going to take deep breaths to calm my body. Would you like to take some with me? It seems like when I yelled and threw the chicken nuggets in the sink, that really scared you. Is that right? I’m sorry that I did that. I don’t want to scare you. It was my fault I yelled, not yours. I’m responsible for my own feelings. I’m going to work on calming my body before I lose my temper next time. When you are ready, let’s talk together about what our dinner options are for tonight. Does that sound good?”
Repair Isn’t Easy
Although we consider repair to be one of our most important parenting tools, it can be one of the hardest to practice! Most of us were not shown how to repair, and many of us learned in our families of origin to ignore conflict or were taught that adults don’t apologize. “Repair can be so hard for parents because this was not the model we were given,” Kelly says. “We are often told that we do need to know everything and be perfect. We feel ashamed when we know we have acted in a way that disrupts connection with our children.”
“In taking accountability for our part in a disruption, we might feel difficult feelings like anger, shame, and guilt,” Kelly says. Repair can require us to feel discomfort, which is why it’s tempting to avoid it. “We struggle to sit with these feelings just as much as our children do, but when we’re willing to do that we can be a model for them.” Repair can also be difficult because it can take a lot of courage to repair, and it doesn’t always go the way we planned. But this is also an opportunity to learn, grow, and offer positive modeling for our children.
Teaching kids about repair and offering them opportunities to practice it is not always easy, but it’s worth it!