I acted just like my 4 year old

Who we ARE is a much more accurate predictor of how our kids will do than what we know or understand about the science of parenting.

Brene Brown

Brene Brown is one of my favorite speakers and authors. She has a fabulous podcast and has authored many wonderful books including one I am listening to for a second time right now — “The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting.”

Last week, I had a stellar moment of imperfect parenting. I acted from my amygdala with little to no self control. Upon reflection, I realized I acted exactly like my 4 year old son, Keener.

If you need to hear that you are not alone in your low moments as a parent, let me assure you, you are not alone. Progress, not perfection.

So here goes…

We were having unusually warm weather and Keener decided to water the flowers after getting out of the car. The “rule” is, he can’t turn the hose on without a grown up. I love that he wants to help out and if I’m with him, he is welcome to use the hose. However, I was not with him and he turned it on without asking.

I looked out and saw him having the time of his life with the hose. He was spraying it in the air and singing, “it’s raining, it’s pouring!” and was elated. Our babysitter opened the door to tell him to stop and he sprayed her, along with the entry of our house. Fight or flight mode instantly took over my central nervous system.

I stormed out the front door and can you guess what happened next? He sprayed me, soaking me head to toe.

I love the quote by Victor Frankl:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Victor Frankl

Between stimulus and response, I left no space. I shot out of the house like a bat out of hell and grabbed the hose out of his hands. Then, I did the exact same thing he did to me — I doused him.

What were you thinking?

I left no space between stimulus and response. I simply fired.

This lack of self control is the exact same skill I am helping my kids develop each and every day. “What were you thinking?” “Did you think that was a good idea?” “Why did you do that?” Guilty. All questions I have been known to ask and goodness me, was this a moment of awakening.

I wasn’t thinking. No, this wasn’t a good idea. I was angry. Those are my answers.

Between getting soaked with the hose and yanking it out of his hands and spraying him back, I left no space to think or to choose my response. I acted as if he were a lion; my fight or flight mode kicked in, and I fought.

Thankfully, I have been working on increasing my awareness so it quickly occurred to me that I was behaving and modeling the exact opposite of my goal. Instead of continuing down this path and punishing him or saying something I would later regret, I shifted gears. I could feel the error in my ways and I was able to find that space that I needed to find 30 seconds before. However, it wasn’t too late.

“Awareness is the first step, really, to make any kind of change.”

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee

I apologized right away to Keener. Keener, mommy was upset and acted without thinking. I am very sorry for spraying you. I should not have done that. I acted on my feelings and that was a mistake. Grown ups make mistakes just like kids do. We are all working on knowing how we are feeling and having more self control. I’m very sorry.

Keener accepted my apology and then apologized himself for turning on the hose without asking. We repaired the rupture and were able to move on with our evening without things escalating.

The Power of Repair

Tina Payne Bryson who has coauthored many books with Dan Siegel talks about repair. I have listened to her speak on numerous online conferences and podcasts and she reminds me about the power of repair. She has said the following which I find incredibly helpful:

  • “What’s key is after a rupture, we repair. That’s everything.”
  • “Repair widens our child’s tolerance for conflict in relationships.”
  • “Repair after rupture becomes predictable too.”
  • “Repair says ‘even though we may get upset, you can’t lose my love.'”
  • “When you’re imperfect and you repair, you’re actually building resilience.”

These are all words that I desperately needed to hear.

The idea is that we are always modeling for our kids. By repairing and owning our shortcomings, we are modeling what it is like to be human — to make mistakes and then make them right. To take responsibility for our actions and commit to doing better in the future. To acknowledge that we too are working on finding that space between stimulus and response to choose our response, not simply act on our emotions. That we are committed to the relationship and that no matter what, my love for you is strong, consistent, and guaranteed. Even when I spray you in the face…

As I previously mentioned, you are not alone. Being a parent has taught me more about myself in the last 4.5 years than in the 29 years before that. And I am committed to continuing to grow, learn and improve, knowing I will fail along the way. To *try* and live as a model of my expectations and more importantly model how to repair when I fall short.

“Our greatest challenge and greatest opportunity; be the adults we want our children to be and raise children with courage and compassion.”

Brene Brown

3 comments

  1. This first made me laugh Jenny, and Iā€™m sure I would have done exactly the same thing. Thank you for the reminder to pause before reacting and to acknowledge our own indiscretions. Modeling behavior is the best teacher.

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