Recently we’ve been discussing this at home, in an attempt to help the girls act lovingly to each other and speak kindly. Since then I’ve been thinking about how maybe this doesn’t apply only to others. Maybe it applies to ourselves.
Over the last couple weeks, we’ve noticed a shift in our older daughter’s behavior. Whereas we had a rough six months or so, with tantrums and anger, lately things have changed. She will proactively apologize now, and she will become very upset for having hurt or disappointed someone. At first this came as a great relief to us. But I’m noticing she is so distraught over the slightest infraction that she says things like, “I’m mad at myself” or “I’m upset at myself.” And this won’t do.
In this behavior I see myself, as a young child. I was what I would call self-regulating. Not perfect, of course not. But disappointed parents, a stern-faced teacher, a betrayed friend— these would all be enough to make me physically sick and send myself to my own room. I didn’t need my parents to ground me; I grounded myself. And while this made for a well-behaved and compliant child, now that I see it in my own child, my heart cringes.
I want her to be kind. I want her to think of others before acting, before speaking. I want her to be concerned for the feelings and well-being of others, of course. But maybe even more than that I want her to be well, to be filled to overflowing with peace and joy, to be confident and content with who she is. And if she can’t let go of the smallest or unintentional of hurts she has caused, she can’t be at peace.
As a mother I am teacher, example setter, disciplinarian when needed. I need to correct her sometimes; I need to teach her the better way. But I’m learning I need to be ever careful not to crush her tender spirit in the process, and even when I’m very gentle, this is proving to be hard.
We talk about the process of asking for forgiveness. Today, after an incident when she had trouble letting go, I reminded her, “Remember the three steps when you make a mistake, Mirabella? Ask for forgiveness, think of a way to keep the same thing from happening again, and move on.”
“Then forgive yourself, right Mama? So really that’s four steps.”
Always I am teaching and learning, not usually able to tell which is happening at any given moment. In this Mirabella reminds me not to look to my husband, my children, my knowledge of the future, my work or my friends to make me happy. It’s not their job. Teaching these lessons reminds me that, in the endless filling of everyone else’s buckets, it would do us well to prioritize filling our own.