For New Year's, my children and I set intentions for the year. I broke our intentions into "being" and "doing". My 6-year-old could better understand "doing" and my eleven-year-old could be asked to think about how we are all being with each other. On our doing list were things like going camping, taking a trip, sports, riding bikes, riding horses, doing yoga. On our being list, we wrote things that ended the sentence, "In our family we are______" and we came up with things like kind, helpful, encouraging, considerate, we take care of each other,etc. The goal for me is to create a home that is emotionally safe and free of judgment. This, to me, is emotional house cleaning. I may not be so good at physical housekeeping, but it is easier for me to focus on emotional housekeeping (not that I have it mastered at all).
Of course, you cannot live and love your children without completely and totally mucking it up at times. And you cannot parent them without leading them to their own mistakes.
I believe that learning how to handle one's mistakes toward others is just as important as teaching children good habits and manners. In keeping with a judgment-free zone, this also means keeping deep shame out of the picture. It is not an opportunity to make someone inherently "wrong". It is an opportunity to fix a mistake. It does not mean that when you mess up you do not feel remorse or sadness at how you have (mis)treated someone. It does mean that you know how to clean up any emotional messes you might make.
The reasoning behind this for me is to help my children be people of integrity. When you have integrity, you do things that make you feel good about yourself deep, deep down. Even if you make a mistake, you can trust yourself when you take care of your mistakes. You trust that you have the strength and creativity to work out a problem with others. This builds your integrity and helps you be true to your nature, which is to be connected with others, and treat them in ways that make you feel good about yourself. Others in turn can grow to trust you.
In fact, a person who has developed courage will not hesitate to apologize when they know their actions have caused someone grief. Apologizing is a sign of strength, not weakness. I think we've gotten it wrong with apologies. Somewhere along the way, through forcing and shaming children into apologizing we have lost sight of what an apology actually says.
To me, an apology says, quite simply, "I care". "I care about you and about our relationship. I am aware I may have done something to burn the bridge between us. I want to repair that." It doesn't say, "I'm wrong and I suck and I know you will jump on this bandwagon of flagellating me". It creates peace and demonstrates love. It invites forgiveness and the act of forgiving.
NOT apologizing gives the message: "You're wrong and I don't have to apologize and you can't make me so I will just excuse myself and expect you to forget I mucked up, or I will just pretend you don't exist any more." It adds to the mess and creates distrust and loss of hope. It divides people in their hearts.
In my family, my single-mom-take-two family, we take care of ourselves and each other. That first of all means having a family culture of expression. Everyone is allowed to express their thoughts and feelings freely without fear of judgement. Taking care of each other and our own expressions means that when we mess up, through disrespect, harsh words or tone of voice, judging, or just plain developmentally appropriate defiance, we take steps to repair our relationship.
I have kept it simple, this addressing of breaches of relationship. I feel it is important to wait until the anger has abated. My first daughter taught me that one cannot apologize from "the angry place", and she was absolutely right. After the "angry place" has moved away, I will usually initiate conversation about what happened, and then each person involved gets to tell their side of the story. Once that is done, and appropriate apologies given and voiced, we hug. Often, just being able to speak one's story and have it be received brings enough validation that apologies seem unnecessary. I feel it is important to end any emotional storm with a stated apology and hug and a feeling of, "We are ok together. We are put back together." In stating the apology there is validation, an the person giving the apology develops a courage to own mistakes. In receiving an apology, there is an empathy towards the other person gained, and a receiving of validation. There is an experience of forgiveness for everyone.
I don't like for there to be things that simmer or are left unfinished. Holding things in causes a different kind of suffering.
The situation can be as simple as taking another's toy without asking. Experiencing even small acts of forgiveness, both giving and receiving such, consistently in family, is powerful and loving.
Of course, with my 6-year-old, this process is not directly stated, but rather it is modeled, with children and adults. I make sure my kids hear me give sincere apologies, as appropriate. If I accidentally knock off the glass of water at a restaurant, I say, "I apologize, let me help clean up." With my eleven-year-old, some of it can be directly stated, and as she grows and develops we can go deeper in our conversations with each other, and I can help her learn self-care and boundaries as part of relating to not just her family, but her peers and the world at large.
I know this all sounds idealistic, and it is, for me, a work in progress. I have to often clean up after the "mean mom" voice is trotted out, or I forget a promise to draw with my child, or a hundred other times where I fail to______. It is a statement of my goals as a parent, and how I am figuring it out for me. I am nowhere near perfect and have plenty of room to grow.
I do know that I want to create a culture of rebuild and repair in my home, and that I want apologies to come from a strong sense of courageous Self and not shame, and that teaching the art of apologizing and valuing your friends and family this way is as important as brushing teeth...it's all self-care.
How do you teach forgiveness and relationship repair in your family? What ideas do you have?