It was 8:12 a.m. The kids were supposed to be in their classroom at school by 8:20. I had asked at least a hundred (ok, maybe five) times for them to get their shoes on. When I appeared at the back door and NO ONE had their shoes on, I LOST it. This mommy went off the deep end. Yelling, ranting, pretty much acting like a crazy lady.
Did I mention my children are in kindergarten and preschool? I know, I know. I am pretty sure that they are not going to suffer major academic setbacks, or become horrible delinquents, if they are not in class by 8:20 (truth be told, school doesn’t even start until 8:30). But, the dawdling, the not listening—it grates on me in the early morning hours as I try desperately to down my coffee amidst breakfast requests, meltdowns over not having the “right” pair of socks or underwear, pouring the syrup on the wrong part of the plate, and fights over which Spotify playlist will be played that morning.
It’s all exhausting, and I am exhausted, so sometimes I lose it. And then, I feel AWFUL. I feel like the Jekyll and Hyde mommy. They get their shoes and pile into the car with somber faces, whispering to each other and helping the little siblings out the door. I look at their little bodies and faces, and I worry that I have somehow created an emotional scar for them.
I realize that I am not the first parent in the world to yell at my children, and I won’t be the last. I don’t call them names, I don’t swear at them, I don’t hit them or physically hurt them. But I know being yelled at causes hurt, too.
When this happens, I usually spend a few minutes feeling deep regret. But more than that, the most important thing I do after this kind of thing happens is this: I stop what I’m doing, I hold my kids close, I look into their eyes, and I apologize.
I don’t simply say an inauthentic, “Sorry, guys, Mommy lost it,” and move on. And I don’t blame the victims, saying something like, “Sorry I yelled, but you weren’t listening.” No—I actually apologize. I talk to them about my feelings. “Mommy was really frustrated. I’m feeling really tired today, and I didn’t handle that situation well. I’m really sorry that I yelled. I’m going to take some deep yoga breaths and calm myself down so we can start over. Do you forgive me? I love you so much.”
Some might think this seems crazy. They might say parents shouldn’t apologize to their children. But here’s what I say: I want to raise mensches. I want to raise children who take responsibility for their actions. I want to raise children who know they are not perfect and know how to make things right when they do mess up. Helping them to apologize when they’ve hurt someone is important. But showing them that even Mommy isn’t perfect, even Mommy makes mistakes, and even Mommy has to make things right when she hurts someone, is a much more powerful lesson.
Right now in the Jewish calendar we are in the season of repentance. With Yom Kippur just around the corner, we are called to evaluate our own actions, to take steps to right our past wrongs, and to make a plan so that when faced with the same situation, we make a better choice.
Every year my husband and I make a point to talk with our children about what their teshuvah (their act of wrong-doing they want to work on) is for the coming year. We sit together as they each think of something they would like to do better—this year, one of my daughters has declared her intention to work on not licking her Abba/Dad). And then, we share with them what our teshuvah is for the coming year. I share with them where I know I have made mistakes, and how I plan to work on doing and being better. I also explain to them that teshuvah is a process, and none of us will be perfect.
I hope that I won’t ever yell again, but I know that I am human. I will mess up, I will get frustrated, I will try my best, but I will probably yell. I hope in those moments though, that my children will not just remember the moment where I yelled, but will take to heart, and remember the moment that I really looked at them, held them, and said, “I’m sorry.”