Mending Little Hearts (When Mama Loses Her Cool)

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It had been a hard day . . . a hard week . . . a hard season. My six-year-old daughter was struggling (for several good reasons). It was almost dinnertime, and my husband was working yet another night to make ends meet. Most days, I can handle things. Most days, I can “get ahead of it”. But on this day, when a frustrated little girl turned into a “screaming hysterically” little girl, my sleep deprived self just didn’t have the patience she needed. In my weakness, I pitched a nice little fit that almost matched hers. I screamed, I stomped, I even slammed a couple of doors. Then I went to the kitchen, cried, and texted my husband, “I am such a failure.” I was overwhelmed and ashamed.

But THEN I remembered the very best advice I’ve ever been given as a parent . . . “When you mess up, APOLOGIZE TO YOUR KIDS.” In Connected Parenting** (see footnote) there’s actually a name for it — it’s called “Rupture and Repair”. None of us is perfect. We are all going to have times we rupture the relationship with our kids. But the most important part is what comes next: the REPAIR.

When the meltdowns were over (both hers and mine) and she had eaten dinner, I apologized as I always do. I explained what had made me so upset. I worked with her on strategies to help her calm down when she’s struggling in the future (so things don’t escalate so quickly.) But all that still didn’t seem like enough.

Rupture and repair - share a special treat to reconnect with your child after losing your cool and causing hurt.
Photo by David Calavera on Unsplash

So . . . once she was ready for bed, I told her to meet me at the dining room table for a surprise. I handed her two spoons and got out the GOOD ice cream (the stuff she doesn’t even know I have stashed for when she’s in bed!) She looked at me, confused. “Mama, does this have sugar in it? I thought you said I couldn’t have sugar before bedtime?!” When I told her it would be okay tonight, her eyes sparkled.

Then I told her the rules for eating this SPECIAL ice cream. “We have to feed each other!” She burst out laughing! (She’s six and perfectly capable of feeding herself . . . but she has only been home with us for two years, and eye contact is extremely important for attachment.)

I turned on the Amy Grant remake of the Mr. Rogers song, “It’s You I Like”. Then we fed each other bites as that beautiful song played and the sweetest of lyrics settled into our hearts. We zoomed ice cream into each other’s mouths, stole bites from each other, and even wrapped our arms around each other’s (the way a married couple does their wedding toast) — and my little love dissolved into giggles! By the time the song was over, we’d had a little bit of a sweet snack, lots of laughs, and plenty of eye contact. We ended the night connected and happy! (And I went from feeling like a failure to feeling like a good mama again.)

I sat in the living room long after she was asleep, just reflecting on our night. Wishing and hoping that maybe a shared tub of “good ice cream” will be a way that my daughter and I connect far into the future. Maybe, just maybe, someday my grown up little girl will still share a few bites with me in our pajamas after a hard day. And maybe someday when I’m gone, she’ll remember that she had an imperfect mama who made LOTS of mistakes — but who always made sure her little girl knew she was LOVED before the day was done.

Rupture and repair - eye contact and shared smiles strengthen relationships
Photo by Rusty Jackson at RJacksonMedia.com

What are some ways you work to mend your little one’s heart when you lose your cool? Share them below to give us all some new ideas for our hardest days! And let’s all remember, “bad moments don’t make bad moms”. We are all just doing the best we can — and teaching our kids about humility and forgiveness is actually a really healthy thing!

**Connected parenting and TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) can be used by any family, but it is extremely helpful and healing for adoptive and foster families – as well as for any family or caregiver of a child who has endured abuse, neglect, or trauma. This includes medical trauma and infant adoption. Even teachers and church volunteers can benefit from training in TBRI! It has been the most transformational thing we’ve ever done for our beautiful little girl, adopted internationally at the age of four. To find out more about connected parenting, check out the Empowered to Connect website, this video, and this conference.
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Just days after graduating from Auburn University, Ericka took a trip to Africa that changed her life forever. She discovered two unexpected things there: a passion for orphan care, and her husband Rusty! Together they founded The Sound of Hope, and have spent the past 10+ years working to provide holistic care to vulnerable children around the world. Though her heart (and time) is divided between other countries – she’s proud to call Birmingham, Alabama home! When Ericka & Rusty decided to grow their family through adoption, they never guessed it would take five heart-wrenching years to get their daughter home from Thailand. These days Ericka tries to soak up every moment of long-awaited motherhood to their beautiful little girl, Kate. Their Thai darling is growing up way too fast, and Ericka is mildly obsessed with over-documenting it all on Instagram and her blog! In addition to managing The Sound of Hope, Ericka and her husband run a video & photography business called RJackson Media. In her “free time" (do moms have free time?!) Ericka enjoys gardening, decorating, and DIY projects. She also loves singing, dancing, and acting – and was cast in her very first musical theatre role last year. She firmly believes that you’re never too old to try something new!

3 COMMENTS

  1. Needed this, been feeling like a bad mama lately. Mainly spread too thin.

    I try to make it up by extra snuggles at night, maybe one more book or song.
    Planning something fun for the next day.

  2. I love the ice cream idea. And explaining to your daughter why you lost your cool. We don’t give kids as much credit as they deserve. The deserve to know that Mom’s and Dad’s have bad days too, it makes them feel more normal and takes the onus off of them to be perfect all the time.

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