Several days ago one of my children hurt another child’s feelings. At school she did something that was unkind and it upset another child, someone she actually really likes. When I found out what she’d done, I felt a mixture of feelings: sadness, consternation, frustration and yes, shame. I knew that her behaviour was a deviation from her true, authentic Self.
When we arrived home, I talked to her about her actions, trying to get to the reasons for her behaviour. Was she upset at the other child? No. Did she want to hurt the other child’s feelings? Not necessarily. Did she do it because the other children were doing it too? Yes, this turned out the be the reason. Group mentality, peer pressure, unthinking youth, immaturity– these were the reasons for her behaviour, not an intrinsic ‘badness,’ not because she has ‘issues at home,’ not because she is a ‘naughty little girl’ or a ‘bully.’
I believe in my own child’s internal goodness. Regardless of the outward manifestations of behaviour, within her is pure beauty and truth. Like a bud on a rose bush, she has the potential to blossom forth into a person who will bring joy to others and to herself. Because I believe in her goodness, I choose to talk with her about her behaviour rather than just admonish her for it. Instead of isolating her by sending her to her room (which I feel would teach her very little) I choose to do the opposite: I bring her closer to me. I create a safe place for her to be honest about what she did, encircling her in my arms. Within this nest I listen to her, talk with her about what she did and invite her to see it from the other child’s point of view. It takes time. It takes patience with myself and the willingness to put aside my shame, indignation and sadness and focus on her need: her need for understanding and guidance. …and of course the other child’s need for love and respect. It takes time….
She knows she has done the Wrong Thing. She knows she hurt someone else and now they are both sad. She feels that she let herself down. She wants to put it right but doesn’t know how. She wishes we could all just forget about it. She’d like to pretend it didn’t happen.
How many of us adults have felt the same mixture of unhappiness and shame about making a mistake that hurt someone else? How many of us wish we could press ‘Rewind’ and go back and do it differently? How many of us would like to push our actions into the understairs cupboard and forget about them, along with everything else in there?
After listening to her for a time, I said, “Do you want my advice on how you can make this situation better?” I nearly fell on the floor when she said, “Yes.” (usually she’s not overly keen on taking advice!)
“Draw her a ‘sorry card.'” I am a big believer in the power of a humble and heartfelt apology to build bridges and re-establish the potential for connection. Much like a plaster or band-aid, an apology doesn’t heal the wound, but it helps the process on its way.
“But it will be so embarrassing,” she said. Yes, it’s hard to own up to our own mistakes and admit that we could have done better. Every day as a parent I wish I could press Rewind and do things a little different, a little better. But none of us is perfect. It takes self-awareness, humility and perhaps a bit of bravery to say sorry, especially when we’re embarrassed.
I was confident that the other child would forgive her, and like most 6 year olds, they would just forget about it and move on. However, for adults, forgiveness can be much harder. The wounds seem to cut deeper and we have longer memories for the hurts we have suffered at others’ hands. Forgiveness is a gift we give to someone who apologises, and to ourselves, for it has the potential to transform schism into connection. To refuse to forgive keeps the wound fresh, painful and festering. Forgiveness must necessarily involve a degree of amnesia to be truly healing. In our family, we have a phrase, Starting Over, that means we are forgiving, forgetting and moving on. It’s like wiping the chalkboard clean and beginning again. I confess that I don’t always find it easy.
The next day I stood in the school playground and held my daughter’s hand. I could feel her grasping it a little tighter as she scanned the yard to see whether her friend had arrived yet. She moved closer, held onto my leg and said, “I’m worried.” I encouraged her, telling her that I hoped this would bring an end to it and then everyone could let it go. When the child arrived, my daughter ran to her, gave her the card (on which she’d drawn a rainbow and the words ‘I am sorrey Sofey”) and stood back. The little girl opened it, a smile spread across her face and she showed it to her mother. My daughter turned, ran to me with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen, leapt into my arms and hugged me. I said, “Doesn’t it feel good to be forgiven?”
“Yes,” she said, “it feels great.”
Photo credit: Julio Nohara, Wikimedia Commons.