Sometimes we parents make stupid pronouncements. For example, one morning I was teaching a parenting class and a mother told about a blow-up with her daughter the previous evening. She had made a special meal for her daughter to eat while she studied. Apparently the daughter was not in a good mood. When Mom delivered the meal, the daughter scorned: “I don’t want to eat that junk!” Mother was instantly indignant. “Is that the gratitude I get for trying to be helpful? Maybe you can be grounded for a week!” And she stomped back to the kitchen feeling both hurt and guilty. She knew that her daughter had behaved badly. But she also knew that she had over-reacted.
The mother asked me what she should do. She did not want to make threats and then fail to deliver. She knew that could undermine her credibility. She is right. One of the greatest problems in parenting is that parents give directives that they do not enforce. Children learn to ignore our directives until we become angry. Only then do they know that we’re serious.
Yet the best way to teach the daughter to repent is to be a good model of repenting. I suggested that the mother approach her daughter when she got home from school. When they are relaxed, she could say: “I want to talk with you about something. Last night I was very hurt when I prepared a treat that I thought you would enjoy and you seemed unappreciative. I reacted in ways that aren’t right. I’m sorry. I wonder if we could start over again. I would like to recreate our interaction last night.”
I asked if the mother thought that approach would work. The mother heaved a sigh of relief. “I have felt so bad about my reaction. If I say what you suggested, I know that my daughter will immediately apologize for her thoughtless reaction. I can apologize for my over-reaction. Our relationship will be healed.”
I call that re-scripting. We can go back to bad times and re-write them when we are peaceful. While I believe that reasonable rules should be consistently and promptly enforced, I also believe that unreasonable pronouncements should be revised with humility and kindness.