It was early in the morning. I hadn’t been up for more than ten minutes but I had already shouted at my boys three times. Having been a teacher, I’m usually pretty good at what I call “professional calm” – the ability to avoid getting wound up in the emotions of the moment and respond calmly to a situation. Normally, I’m a minimal shouter but there was no sign of that woman on this particular morning. “Why am I shouting at my children?” I wondered.
When I find myself shouting, it is a signal to go inwards, not to blame my children – even when they’ve trailed mud over the newly-cleaned floor. My shouting is a prompt to ask myself what’s going on with me that I can’t muster up my professional calm in this moment? Often just knowing why I’m really shouting, seeing that it’s not really about my boys at all, helps me to regain perspective and stop taking whatever it is out on them.
REASONS WE MIGHT SHOUT AT OUR CHILDREN
Here are some of the main reasons I shout. What makes you shouty?
I’m tired. This is the main reason I shout. When I’m tired, I become hypersensitive and my tolerance level plummets. Something that would’ve been irritating on a normal day, like Thomas pouring my drink into his cup ‘til overflowing while I’m not looking, becomes infuriating when I’m tired.
I’m overwhelmed. When I’m overwhelmed by all I need to do, any added demand, such as being asked for another snack, feels like harassment.
I’m triggered. Sometimes, my boys hit a sensitive spot and my ego comes out roaring. Eg.“How dare he disrespect me!” Being disrespected hits a tender place for me. I question my worth and I spiral downwards within – and loudly without. (See my post How Our Children Raise Us for more on being triggered by our children.)
My children are doing just the thing that winds me up. Thomas has a squeal perfectly-pitched to grate on my nerves. My reaction is almost a biological response rather than a mental/emotional one. He usually squeals when being provoked by Jake. Thomas’ squeal and Jake’s aggravation are a lethal combination that sends me bananas.
I’m in a rush. You don’t need to be told that children have a completely different sense of timing to adults. (The joys of not being able to read a clock.) I hate being late and lose patience when my boys are slowing us down.
I’m preoccupied. Sometimes, there’s an issue with my boys that I haven’t taken the time to get to the bottom of because I’m in the middle of something. Perhaps I’ve called out to them to stop arguing over a toy but they actually need some help to come up with a fair way to share it. Without my guidance, the arguing gets louder and more aggressive…and so do I. Sometimes, I’ve just got to put my plans on pause, get present, and deal with the issue properly.
HIT THE RESET BUTTON
The magic is that, in any situation, we can choose again. We can hit the reset button and respond differently, without shouting. When time is short, I simply take a breath. With that breath, I imagine shedding my upset self like a snake sheds its skin, leaving only the Loving part of myself remaining. I return to the situation with her instead. Just the intention to approach the situation with Love makes a difference. (We can teach our children to do this too.) When I need more than a moment to make the switch to Love, I turn on the kettle and the tv, giving us all a 10-minute break to diffuse the situation. My professional calm returns and I continue – without shouting.
Yesterday, the boys and I were in the car and it was a case #1 and of #4 in combination. Having been working on this post, I was determined not to shout. Being in the car, there was no kettle or tv in sight. So, I stopped the car, told my boys I would drive again when Thomas had stopped squealing & Jake had stopped bothering him and got out. I stood quietly on the pavement until I felt calmer and was sure the kafuffle between my boys was over. It was a quiet drive home.
RECOVERING FROM OUR SHOUTING EPISODES
When I have shouted at my boys, I always apologise. When they shout, I tell them that they can express whatever they have to say but must do so respectfully. Same goes for me. Whatever the reason I’m shouting, my spiritual beliefs insist that I always treat others with love, knowing everyone is worthy of kindness and respect at all times. I only apologise when I’m ready, though, able to be sincere. (See my post Should I Make My Children Apologise?)
It doesn’t feel good to have been the shouting mum, it’s not how I want to be. So I also have to forgive myself. I don’t want to carry my guilt around with me, it will only sour the next moment. Having a shouty moment – or a shouty day, even – doesn’t mean we’re bad people or bad parents. It just means there’s something going on for us. It shows us that we need a little TLC of some sort – we all do sometimes.
When Jake was a pre-schooler, I often noticed him hanging on to things after giving him a firm word or disciplining him in some way. He seemed uncertain how to interact with me, unsure whether I was still upset with him or not. So my husband and I started making a point of telling him that it was “finished” once any discipline had been dealt with. We would then continue as normal, ensuring our manner with Jack was back to usual, not angry or upset in any way. This was to show him that the incident was over and no hard feelings remained. Looking back, I can see that this was a precursor to teaching him about forgiveness.
Last week, the long school holidays were getting the better of us both. It felt to me that Jake wasn’t listening to much of what I said (unless the word “chocolate” featured) and I was tired of being patient & consistent. I ended up shouting in exasperation. Later, as we both sat at the table having morning tea, we exchanged apologies for our behaviour. Jake kept repeating his apology despite my acceptance and I realised that I had never spoken explicitly about forgiveness with him. So, I reminded him of how I used to say “finished” after a telling-off so that he knew it was over. “When we forgive someone, we decide that it is finished, we decide not to keep feeling upset with the other person”, I told him.
That was enough for one morning but our chat made me realise that there is so much for a person to learn about forgiveness. Many adults struggle with it. And perhaps it’s because we don’t truly understand what forgiveness is – a gift to ourselves.
4 CHARACTERISTICS OF FORGIVENESS
Having given it some thought, I’ve come up with four characteristics of true forgiveness that we can aim to pass on to our children. They may not grasp it all at first as forgiveness can look different on the outside than it is on the inside. From the outside, it sometimes looks like politeness or forgetting but it’s neither of these things.
1. We forgive for our own benefit. Forgiveness is not saying “it’s Ok” but, rather, “I’m OK”. Ultimately, it is a choice not to let whatever happened hurt us anymore. I have seen people who are almost defined by the event they refuse to forgive – often bitter, vengeful and hard, their non-forgiveness is apparent even when they don’t realise it. Yet the people they won’t forgive have likely moved on and are unaware of the resentment harboured towards them. Those who won’t forgive don’t see that their forgiveness is for themselves and that they suffer most for their decision not to allow it.
2. Forgiving is not pretending it never happened. When we forgive, we are forgiving the person, not their actions. We let go of our resentment towards them. What happened may still upset us when we think of it but we no longer see ourselves as the victim of a personal attack. With time, we may even recognise the gift hidden in the experience – something we needed to learn about ourselves. I think this is what is meant by the phrase, “forgiven, not forgotten”.
“Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were”. – Cherie Carter-Scott
3. We can’t force someone (or ourselves) to forgive. A list of reasons to forgive is not going to make someone forgive because forgiveness does not happen through logic – it happens through love. Taking a moment to see the humanness of the person whose actions hurt us can help open us up to forgiving them. When we recognise that the other’s hurtful behaviour was caused by their issues & misconceptions, we realise that whatever happened wasn’t about us at all. It then becomes easier to forgive because we know we can relate – we have issues & misconceptions of our own that affect our behaviour. Seeing that we are all ultimately the same enables us to be compassionate instead of judgemental and willing to forgive.
4. Forgiveness doesn’t require an apology. Just as whatever happened to hurt us wasn’t really about us, forgiving isn’t really about the other person. Because it’s not about them, we can choose to let forgiveness in at any time without an exchange of words. When we do receive an apology, it is an invitation to forgive, a reminder that the power to do so is in our hands. We simply decide that we are open to forgiving and allow Love to do the rest.
HOW TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN ABOUT FORGIVENESS
Having defined “forgiveness”, the big question is how to teach our children about it. We want them to really understand what it is so they don’t just go through the motions of forgiveness because it is expected of them, to appear polite. There are a number of things we can do towards giving them a full picture of forgiveness –
Forgive our children. Once our children have offered us an apology for something or been through the consequences of their inappropriate actions, it is over – I repeat, OVER! Often I have seen a child put through the consequences & offer an apology and still have to endure 10 more minutes of lecturing or suffer the cold shoulder for the rest of the day. What’s happening in these situations? – their parents haven’t forgiven them.
Let our children see us forgiving others around us. There are many small acts of forgiveness in a day for our children to witness. We forgive their siblings when they shout at us. We forgive our partners for being home late. We forgive the shop assistant who over-charged us and had to put us through the lengthy paperwork required to refund us. When someone offers an apology to us, our children should see us accept it with a “thank you”. (Accepting an apology is not forgiving them on the spot, just appreciating their acknowledgement that they have hurt us). We can also talk to our children about the compassion we have for those who have wronged us. Eg. “The shop assistant made a mistake when he was adding up our purchases, we all make mistakes sometimes”. This shows our children that forgiveness comes from Love, and that judgement has no place alongside forgiveness.
Notice and talk about it when we see that our child has or hasn’t forgiven someone. We can talk with our children about how they feel to have let go or to be holding on to their resentment. This will make them more aware of how their choice to forgive or not impacts themselves.
Don’t expect our children to forgive straightaway. Often they will need time to allow the emotions of the situation to pass before they’re able to forgive. (This is true for adults too.) If they’re not yet ready to forgive a playmate, suggest they play apart for a while. If they are offered an apology, they can receive it with a “thank you” and forgive when they are ready. (You may also be interested to read my post Should I Make My Children Apologise?)
Suggest your child pray for help to forgive if they’re finding it hard. Logic changes the mind, Love changes the heart. While we choose to allow forgiveness in, it is a matter for the heart. Prayer opens us up to receive the love we may need for the task. This suggestion is probably suitable for school-aged children but we can say a prayer to help our younger children along.
IN SUMMARY: THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is, I think, one of the most important spiritual and life skills we need to learn. Yet, it is something easily overlooked by parents. It would be easy to teach our children to graciously accept an apology without addressing the inner process required to truly forgive.
Forgiveness is an act of self-love. When we refuse to forgive, we are really refusing ourselves freedom – the freedom to live with openness and joy. Like any skill, we get better at forgiving by practising it. When children forgive the child who called them a hurtful name, the parent who punished them unfairly, the teacher who overlooked them for an opportunity, they’ll more readily forgive the more painful experiences that are a part of life.
It is not weak to forgive. It makes us stronger. We can travel further if we’re not lugging our resentments around with us.