I knew as the words came spilling out of my mouth in an ill-tempered torrent that I would regret them. “Hurry up…argh!!! Just put on your old shoes. And grab your bag! I am not driving you to school this morning…”
My words, though not kind, were nothing compared to the tone of voice in which they were spoken. As an adult I would never tolerate someone speaking to me that harshly. Yet there I was directing verbal barbs at my 8-year old son. He responded in kind, having learned how to defend against his mother’s irritabilities with a tone of his own.
“I’m COMING.” He shot angry brown-eyed darts at me as he scrambled out the door. This was not a good start to the morning.
I attempted a double-sided, half-baked apology at the top of the hill, “I’m sorry I raised my voice, but you really need to be more responsible in the morning.” My final words, “I love you,” fell on deaf ears.
What I wouldn’t give for a do-over right now.
Do-overs are verbal acknowledgments of situations gone awry with a request for remediation. Put simply, they are requests for grace.
I am a believer in do-overs. Asking for forgiveness from our children models humility. It reinforces the do-as-I-do not just do-as-I-say message that all too often gets lost in youthful translation.
Acknowledging our own imperfections and the interpersonal stuff that we sometimes carry with us helps us to more easily tolerate the stuff of others. Behind every do-over is recognition that relationships matter more than whatever hard feelings or circumstances may have transpired. It is choosing connectedness with others over being right.
Some people believe apologizing degrades authority—they may be correct if authority is interpreted as submission out of fear. Ultimately parents need to decide whether they want their kids to make choices out of respect or obedience. The job of parenting may be easier when kids just do as they are told, but this comes at significant personal and societal cost.
Authoritarian parents, characterized by high control and expectations with low warmth, are more likely to raise children who are unhappy, withdrawn and who engage in delinquent behaviors.
Authoritative parents also have high expectations but with a degree of responsiveness and warmth that allows children to develop into competent and successful adults.
Grace is reciprocal. In moments when our kids’ behavior is threateningly close to going off the rails, suggesting a do-over provides an opportunity for course correction.
Saying “I feel disrespected. Try again,” gives kids an opportunity to maintain their integrity while making a different choice. It allows them much needed perspective from their myopic, ego-centric point of view, which, though completely developmentally appropriate, is nonetheless painful for all others to endure.
Do-overs aren’t always easy. Sometimes time runs out—the school bus pulls away before tensions are resolved. Other times, pride takes hold and we dig our self-righteous heels into the line in the sand that we have drawn.
Relationships are as complex as the people entering into them. For better or worse, we can’t predict the outcome of every interaction, but that is all the more reason we should choose to extend grace when we can.
Offering an olive branch may bring unexpected healing.
If the structural integrity of the relationship is so compromised that an extensive re-grafting is needed, don’t be afraid to seek the help of a good therapist. It’s never too early to try for a better outcome.
Do-overs are possible if we deliberately pursue them. A simple, “let’s start over” or “redo, please” can help us gain much-needed perspective. Often a host of irritants or stressors, piled up, contribute to relational strain—our child dawdling during homework may be less the source of your ire than a tense day at work.
Taking time to consider patterns of painful interactions can help to offset them in the future. For example, it’s not fair to expect your night owl child to be as chipper as your morning lark self before sunrise.
Beyond interpersonal differences, identifying imperfect systems can also help alleviate unnecessary strain. Packing lunch the night before, laying out clothes and setting the alarm a few minutes earlier are easy tweaks that make a big difference in how smoothly mornings go in our home.
The residual of my encounter with my son will, like a paper cut, sting a little less throughout the day. We nonetheless will need to make a deliberate effort to repair the micro-tears in our relationship and fix the system failures. I doubt this interaction will be encoded as a core memory that my son will recall to his therapist years down the road as proof of his tragic childhood.
With any luck and a little bit of grace, our less than perfect beginning will be made over.