“You did what!?”
“What were you thinking!?”
“Why would you do that!?”
“Are you stupid!?”
NO. NO. NO.
You darn well better not respond like that to your child on the heels of a stupid decision. Every ounce of your being will want to ream your child for their gigantic mistake, and you will have to maintain the self-control and wits about yourself to turn your child’s mess-up into a lesson.
That is your job, and if you don’t find a way to teach your child and yourself something as a result of their gaffe, well, then you are following their misstep with a very poignant one of your own.
What will I say to my child on the heels of their stupid decision?
Probably things that I shouldn’t.
Probably things that I will be embarrassed about.
Probably some things that I will regret.
Absolutely some things that I will feel guilty about.
But, hopefully not?
In anticipation of an occurrence that I wholeheartedly hope never happens, but undoubtedly know will, I have preemptively drafted myself a script that I will hopefully remember in the coming years.
To My Child On The Heels Of Your Stupid Decision,
I love you.
I love you more than anything.
Yes, I am going to start our serious conversation with those three words, because those are the three words which relay to you the notion that you are cared about and that you are important; something I very much need you to believe at all times, especially at a time like this.
You have done something unbecoming. You have faltered. You have done something “wrong.”
Guess what, child?
I have done things unbecoming. I have faltered. I have done “wrong” things, too.
You may feel sad right now — sad that you are in trouble or sad that you have hurt or offended others.
You may feel embarrassed — that you didn’t think before you acted or that your actions reflect poorly upon your character.
You may be disappointed — in yourself or in the fact that you believe I feel disappointment in you.
You may feel scared — for what the consequences of your mistake will be or for how your lapse in judgment will define you for the rest of your life.
You may feel like there is no way to recover from this.
Alternatively, I fear that you may feel none of the above.
You may not feel sad about your decision or care that you have hurt another because you are in such a selfish phase, your compassion for others is minimal.
You may not feel embarrassed in the least; as you simply may be so insecure that you pretend and actually believe that you do not care what others think of you.
You may not feel disappointed in yourself or care whether I am disappointed in you because you know I will love you “no matter what.”
You may not have any fear of your impending consequences or how your decision will affect the rest of your life, but it can, and it just might.
You may not even feel like this is something you need to recover from, and all I have to say to that is “wow;” and not in a good way.
But guess what, child?
I feel sad right now.
It makes me sad that you feel sad, and it makes me even more upset that you may not be despondent about the fact that you have hurt or offended others.
I feel embarrassed right now.
I am embarrassed for how I must have faltered in my parenting for you not to have thought before you acted. I am ashamed that your actions reflect poorly upon me and my ability to raise a “good” human being.
I feel disappointed right now.
I am disappointed in you and disappointed in myself, for we both must have screwed up for things to have gotten to this point.
I am scared right now.
I am scared for the self-imposed consequences which you will harbor and for the ones I will surely harbor as well.
Often, when people act out and make bad decisions, it is for attention. I can only hope and pray that you were not so in need of attention that you acted out for it.
Other times when people screw up, it is because they just weren’t thinking clearly and I do hope that is the case for you in this instance.
You see, a mere lapse in judgment caused by a slip in your thinking can be corrected. I can, will, and do encourage you to be more mindful of your values and how you live them in the real world. As your parent, it is my job to be aware of how our family values are being exemplified for you, and I will pay more attention to this.
Still, it was you who made a stupid decision, and although that is typically considered an “ugly word” in our house, your actions were so bad, it warrants the use of it.
And, did you hear what I said?
Your actions were terrible, not you. You are not a bad person. You are an amazing person who made a crappy choice.
Regardless of the nature of your stupid decision, I need to you remember this:
Our mistakes prompt self-improvement.
Our mistakes teach us about ourselves and others.
Our mistakes incite learning.
And your mistakes, they educate both you and me on where we need to improve; you as a person, and me as a parent and model for you.
I love you, honey.
I love you more than anything.
You have done something unbecoming, you have faltered, and you have done something “wrong.”
But on the heels of your stupid decision what is most important for you to remember is that you are loved, and whatever damage that has been done can be remedied by your actions, your revised thinking, and your continued belief that you are the amazing person I know you to be.
This post originally appeared on Scary Mommy at this link.