I meet with my dear friend, I’ll call her Maryann, at a local diner every month. We order omelets and spend two glorious hours poring over everything big and small in our lives. Recently we met and we were sharing the things that were great, and then all the things that weren’t going well for us. After I finished my struggle list, Maryann admitted she had blown it with her 14 year old daughter just the night before.
When her daughter was little, she would ask Maryann for three things that she could think about as she fell asleep. It became their thing, and every night Maryann came up with all kinds of fun responses. One day without any fanfare, the little girl just stopped asking for her three dream things. It was a couple of days before my friend realized that phase was over, and she kissed her daughter goodnight and felt a small loss in her heart.
Fast forward six years and amidst some anxiety in the child’s life over middle school testing and an upcoming sports tournament, she asked her mama for three dream things again.
Unfortunately, at the exact moment of the ask, chaos was exploding around Maryann.
There were the four foster kittens crying under her feet, her other two children were bickering in her ear and her husband was ranting about something in the kitchen and as she stood in the hallway completely overwhelmed, she was just trying to decide who to help first.
Needless to say, she told her daughter to use her own imagination to come up with her three things because she didn’t have time to think.
As soon as the words left her mouth, she wanted to pull them back in and smother them. Her daughter yelled at her for not caring and told her to leave her alone forever.
Maryann left feeling like a complete failure.
Even the next morning, her daughter wasn’t interested in her apology.
We’ve been there. We’ve bombed something big for our kids and we’ve unleashed a hate on ourselves for letting our people down. Sometimes the bashing lasts a few minutes, sometimes days or weeks.
She still felt awful the next day as we chatted over breakfast. We agreed that we don’t feel better by just saying we did something wrong, we actually need to do something meaningful to make amends.
That meaningful something was creating a dream jar for her daughter. First, I suggested she cut some colored paper into small rectangles and write a dream idea on each one, maybe 30 different thoughts, and then place them in a pretty jar and leave it on her daughter’s desk. She started to scribble some ideas on the napkin. As she worked, I smiled. I had made similar jar for my daughter filled with words of inspiration and encouragement for those days when her darker feelings of failure or frustration set in.
You are brave! You kayaked towards Mt. Rainier on that perfect summer day!
You are creative! You brought laughter to us all with your finger puppet play!
You are powerful! You mastered the standing bow pose on a rock!
Maryann added she would write a lovely note explaining that she had not handled her daughter’s request with the respect she would have liked and she would love another chance. I loved it!
Role modeling is a powerful tool for teaching children of any age. My friend was able to use this experience with her daughter to model life skills like acknowledging her mistake, asking for another chance, and making amends to show she is committed to change. It is the action to change that rebuilds the relationship after a heart gets hurt.
When her daughter came home and saw the beautiful gift, she was overwhelmed with love and gratitude. In hindsight, she realized that being one demand in a moment of five demands wasn’t the best time for getting what she wanted, which was some special time with her mom. She hugged the jar, then her mother, and placed it lovingly beside her bed, keeping it nice and close for bedtime.
Now, we all know most conflicts with kids, teens, partners or parents are not so clearly defined. However, finding a way to reconnect in times of difficulty is a huge life skill that we can practice for ourselves and teach our children by good role-modelling.
What ways can you model the behavior you want to see in your child?