So there I was, sitting in a weeping heap on the bathroom floor, because I yelled at my 4 year old. He was doing exactly what a 4 year old should do, only I responded to his ‘acting out’ by acting out myself. And I felt awful. So awful that I had to remove myself, hide in the bathroom and have a big cry on the floor away from my family. I screwed up, and I felt sad and ashamed. I didn’t handle it at all the way I wanted to, and I certainly wasn’t being the mom I wanted to be.
Let’s face it, the engaged parenting approach that many of us adopt is deeply rewarding – for us and our children - but it’s also really challenging to do every minute, of every day. As such, there are countless opportunities for us to screw up and wallow in self-judgement when we don’t parent in a fully present and engaged way.
And, if we’re not careful, the ‘not good enough’ spiral can be a pretty dominating voice that colors our experience with shame and guilt. I know for me, when that critical voice drowns out the others, I feel unworthy of rising up when I screw up, so the vicious shame cycle continues. So in those bathroom floor moments, the question I have asked is: how do you break the shame spiral? How do you rise up, after you screw up?
What I’ve learned is it that the process of rising up starts with forgiveness. When we don’t forgive ourselves for our less than stellar moments, we make it impossible to truly repair, learn and grow. And repair isn’t just about apologizing and making the other feel better, it’s about allowing ourselves to move on too. When we can’t forgive ourselves and apply some self-compassion when we yell at our kids, we become trapped by the screw-up - so much so that we can’t repair, we can’t rise up, and we can’t do better the next time.
I know when I lose my cool - with my kids, my husband, with anyone – it almost always has to do with something outside of the situation. For me, it’s typically because I’ve been so busy taking care of everything and everyone else that I forgot to take care of myself. I’m beyond depleted, and the thing I need most is some nourishment for myself.
But here’s the catch with the whole ‘nourish yourself’ thing: when we mess up, the last thing we think we deserve is to do something nice for ourselves – but the truth is a little bit of self-love and care it is exactly what we need! And nourishment can be as simple as taking a bath, a short walk around the neighborhood alone, or setting up time to connect with a close friend. It’s the thing we need to reset and refill ourselves, so we are able to give to others.
As parents, we need to cut ourselves some serious slack. We are managing a lot, and trying to do it well. As such, we will have many great moments, punctuated by some screw-ups along the way. Life is beautiful and sometimes messy, and we are human after all. Mistakes are going to happen. So the next time you have a screw-up moment, first, try giving yourself a break. Then forgive yourself, and take care of yourself in whatever way is meaningful and available to you.
It’s only when we forgive ourselves and repair the damage (to ourselves and others), that we can truly rise up and let the learning and growing happen. Only then, can we continue to evolve into the parents and partners we want to be.