Children bring happiness to our lives; at times, a joy like no other! But inevitably the tough times come. As we go through all the ages and stages of child-raising, right through to adulthood, we’re going to experience lots of bumps in the parenting path. After all, we are imperfect parents living in an imperfect world.
WHAT IS RUPTURE AND REPAIR?
Rupture happens in all families but looks different for every family. However, with most, if not all ruptures, conflict or tension transpires. Big feelings too are involved – anger, frustration, sadness, maybe even fear. Most commonly, rupture looks like: a disagreement, a parent yelling at a child, a child being sent to their room, or a parent not being able to manage their reactions.
Ruptures are those bits of parenting where your relationship with your child takes a nosedive and you find yourself at odds with them. Some parents might even maintain the rupture, doing this by giving the silent treatment (until an apology comes their way) – an approach often passed on by their own parents.
Ruptures or as we might tell ourselves ‘messing up’, often leave a bitter taste. They can leave parents feeling an abundance of shame and guilt and in ‘failure’ mode.
Repair, on the other hand, is like ‘making up’ or when we use our ‘grown up’ skills to be calm, to manage and move back to middle ground with our child. Like rupture, repair presents differently for every relationship, so it is crucial that you are flexible in your approach and kind to yourself and your child with your expectations. Essentially, repair is when we bravely act in a way to re-connect with our child, returning them and our relationship to a place of safety, support, trust and love.
WHAT DOES REPAIR LOOK LIKE?
To start with, repair is more than just “I’m sorry”. It goes beyond that. Instead, it involves a set of gentle, compassionate behaviours from you.
Below are listed some key characteristics which should go a long way in modelling healthy repair in your relationship with your child – in fact, in all your relationships.
- Be aware, take a breath and take time out
Focus on slowing down, mentally and physically. Take a breath and analyse the situation. Be honest with yourself about what occurred and the role you played. Perhaps chat with your partner or a trusted friend, asking for a balanced, objective perspective. Be sure to return to your child relatively quickly as letting matters fester and delaying repair can only be damaging and prolong hurt and pain.
- Name it happened and what happened
Reach out to your child in a calm manner, looking to “talk things over”, and “not to yell, blame or argue”. Sit alongside them, and as clearly and as honestly as you can, describe what occurred, with a focus on facts and not being emotion driven. Remember, good communication = good relationships!
- Own your role
Set a good example of being accountable and taking responsibility. If you have erred, say “sorry” loud and clear. Explain specifically what you are sorry for.
- Name the impact (and listen to your child’s version)
Learning to deeply listen without judgment to our child’s gripes, anger, unhappiness, hurts etc. is vital for building trust and comfort. Validate their experience, demonstrating genuine empathy – “I get that you felt angry when I did that, I really do”. Avoid denying, dismissing or shutting down their feelings and experience. Anything is open for discussion and negotiation – give them space and time for this.
- Plan a way forward and work on not repeating
Describe what occurred as an opportunity for “learning”, a learning opportunity for you both, you and your child. There is always something to learn from a rupture. Discuss, offer and ask for suggestions how you both will work together to “do things better next time” – such as listening more carefully, taking turns, being calm etc.
Physical touch can be an amazing way to re-connect with your child, and the best way to close off the repair process. Warm physical contact releases the love hormone oxytocin, which enhances a sense of trust and safety. When you hug, cuddle and/or kiss your child, you tell them that you love them and are there for them. It can help to cancel out the negative vibe that was around. It can be an instant reset.
And finally, remember… that being an imperfect parent is not only inevitable, it can actually help your child. Making mistakes helps them become more resilient and prepared for what life will serve up to them as an adult. It also shows them that we can (and will) make mistakes and make a comeback. So while it’s important that you keep fine-tuning your repair work, perhaps cut yourself some slack and leave the shame and guilt behind.