I try hard not to scold or yell at my kids right before they go to bed. I try hard not to yell at them in general, but before bed especially. I don’t like the idea that the last memory they have of the day is a negative one, that they were a disappointment or a failure or anything like that.
But I don’t always make good on this goal. We’re all tired at the end of the day and sometimes there’s laundry all over the floor or dishes that didn’t get put in the sink or something that ultimately results in more work for me than I anticipated. So I scold. And I see in their faces that it hurts.
Once I cool down, I almost always regret it. And I’m disappointed in myself that I, as the adult, couldn’t have the discipline to wait until morning or say it in a different way. But I’m resigned.
“Well,” I think, “I guess that day was a wash. Nothing I can do about that.”
I recently came across some advice that changed I mind. (I wish I could remember where I learned about this. If this sounds familiar to you, please let me know so I can credit the source.)
I read somewhere to think of this day like a story from the child’s perspective. For example:
This story (oversimplified to make the point) has an unhappy ending.
As a parent who influenced that story, I often think, “Well, I screwed up that story. All I can do is try to help make tomorrow’s story a better one.” I think the truth is that that story’s finished.
But that’s not the truth.
As parents, we can always add a new chapter to the story.
The next morning, I can wake up with my kid, give them a giant hug, and apologize for not treating them well the night before. I can say, “I’m sorry I yelled at you last night. I’m frustrated that I had more work to do after a long day of already working hard. When you get home from school, can we clean up your room together and celebrate afterwards by playing some video games together?”
Now, the story is different. It looks more like this:
“Dad yelled at me for my room being messy” still happened; I can’t change that. But, instead of that being the conclusion, it’s just a plot point.
We can change the ending by adding more chapters.
What I love about this idea is that there’s no statute of limitations on when we add new chapters. Yep, you can add to last night’s story this morning. You can add to last year’s story this year. Parents with older kids or adult kids: you can add to stories from 20 years ago today.
The story is always continuing to be written, so don’t be afraid to add more chapters.
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