The gift of a broken mug

My son was swinging a broom around the house, knocked over a large glass jug onto my cherished bowl, and broke it.

I absolutely lost it.
It felt too much in that moment. And unfortunately, I took it out on my children by screaming and cussing at them; more than that, I scared them. My temper scares them.

When children are in a situation like the one I put my children in over a broken bowl, their little bodies flood them with cortisol, their little amygdalas scream at them that they’re in danger, and their nervous systems freak out. It creates a very bad situation for them both physically and psychologically- a trauma response that can short- and re-circuit their vulnerable brains. And when that trauma is sourced and rooted in the person who is supposed to be “safe,” care for them, protect them, it’s a double whammy.
I’ve witnessed the results as my children have grown and have had to navigate my temper. Their responses to my temper have changed. They haven’t gotten “better” at handling it; instead, they’ve developed a freeze response and a “toolkit” of coping mechanisms. That’s what kids, who are quite powerless and unable to either fight or freeze in the face of adult authority, do, and their responses are unfortunately labeled “misbehaviors” by adults who then double-down on them.

Discipline is helping a child solve a problem. Punishment is making a child suffer for having a problem.

– L. R. Knost

There is a distinct difference between “discipline” and “punishment.” One effects change through teaching (discipline), and another attempts to effect change through suffering (punishment). Discipline shares an etymological root with “discern,” which means to see, recognize, differentiate, perceive, or understand something.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather raise children who learn and discern, rather than double-down and shut down.

When you’re lying in bed at night and regrets from the day come to steal your sleep…

“I should have”

“If only I’d”

“I wish I’d”

…grab one of them and turn it into an “I will” and sleep peacefully knowing tomorrow will be a better day.

– L. R. knost

This morning my middle child dropped and broke a mug as we were making a cup of tea together. I saw it coming. I saw the whole thing unfold in slow motion: the hot water splashing over the rim of the mug, the moment it took for her body and brain to register BURN!, and the mug fall to the floor. I could see her tiny physiology starting to respond, and where she started to freeze with not only pain but also fear, I started to melt and to soften.

This moment was a gift. It was perfectly timed for a light to shine in through my brokenness. I took my little girl gently into my arms and told her that it was okay, that she was okay.
“Are you crying because you’re hurt? Or are you crying because you’re scared that mommy is going to yell at you and get angry?”
“I’m scared you’re going to be mad,” she said, in a small tear-filled voice.

And with that, I held her so sweetly and told her that she was the most important thing in the world to me; she is irreplaceable, whereas a mug is just a thing. I explained to her that I was wrong to get so disproportionately angry about a broken object when sometimes we (each and every one of us) mess up, make mistakes, break things but at the end of the day it’s just a thing and it’s absolutely okay to fuck up. What matters in the end is how we learn from it, pick ourselves up from it, and handle it; and mommy didn’t handle things well the other day but today mommy understands better and loves her baby so very much.

Would you rather teach children to be honest about and to learn from mistakes, or to try to hide their mistakes, lie, and be broken by them?

I know what I hope to do.
And even with that, I fuck up too.

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. 

– L. R. Knost

Categories: being a parent, healing, Living YES, mothering, parenting, Pathos, the Mother WoundTags: , , ,

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