I’ll never forget the very first time I apologized to my oldest son. He was three and we were in the parking lot of Sam’s Club. (Strange how I’m often schooled at Sam’s Club.)
I had been pushing his limits for an hour or more. We’d had playtime with friends in the morning, followed by a quick lunch out, and then errands. At age three, he wasn’t napping every day but he definitely needed one at that moment, and as I parked the car, his rageful crying should have been my cue to turn the car around and head home. But I desperately needed milk (or something else I’ve forgotten these 10 years later) and I wasn’t backing down. So I forged ahead, yelled at him to stop it, and hopped out.
With jerky movements, I opened his door, pulled him out of his car seat and then – Grace grabbed me.
I looked down at his little body in a white t-shirt with a blue shark on the front, shoulders slumped and tired, blond hair tousled from frustration, face red and wet with tears. The sight literally brought me to my knees. Right there by the wheel well.
“Buddy,” I began, “I’m sorry.”
And that changed everything.
Then I told him I could sympathize and why. I shared myself.
He calmed down.
He hugged me before I reached for him.
And I realized he wasn’t the only one who was tired. We both needed a break. And we needed each other.
In the years since, I have followed that first success with many more, and though I’m not perfect, I’ve found that these four steps help me reconnect with my kids when we’re out of whack.
Step One: Get down on their level – literally – and look them in the eye. If they are standing, stand. If they are sitting, sit. If they are lying on the floor, make like a pancake with them. Get close. Sometimes just this one thing is enough to release the tension in the air, and positional differences can subliminally indicate authority or power that we need to de-emphasize momentarily.
Step Two: Tell them a story about yourself. We’ve done more living than they have, and we have material – experiences that our kids will find interesting, simply because it’s about us. We can use it to teach them the values we want them to learn.
Don’t be bound by fear in this effort. Don’t think you need to reveal your most egregious mistakes or all the gory details of an embarrassing memory. Just be genuine and age-appropriate. Our kids love us for who we are. So be yourself and share your ‘take-aways’ – the lessons you’ve incorporated into your life. What makes you who you are. Ask God to help you find the right words, because He will.
Step Three: Within reason, do what they want to do for a little while. Have a catch. Play tennis. Watch the new dance she just made up. Go to the pool and swim with them. Listen to their terrible music. Ask what they’d like for dinner and then make it. Whatever. Just hang with them and appreciate life from their point of view.
Step Four: Be silly. Do the unexpected. By this – I absolutely do not mean buy them stuff. Instead, figure out your child’s sense of humor and be willing to be self-deprecating in order to make them smile.
My mom used to dance once in awhile and I claimed I hated it as I stood there – smiling. Guess what?Sometimes, I dance while I make dinner and my kids laugh at me. (They probably have good reason. No one ever said I had rhythm.) But after a minute or two, they usually dance along with me.
And we’re in relationship with one another. And that’s the whole point.
A cheerful glance brings joy to the heart; good news invigorates the bones.