Rupture and Repair
I am “that” mom. The one who reads all the books on brain development, positive parenting, and raising a kind and empathetic child. I strive to discipline my children using positive reinforcement, unconditional love, and routines. Yes, I have boundaries, and my children get told “no” (plenty), but they are offered explanations as well- such as “that’s not a safe choice, I’m worried you’ll get hurt” or “you are not being kind, and it hurts my feelings, can we try again?” And, per the advice of just about every child development expert out there, I try to stay calm in the face of tantrums and challenging behavior. I don’t always succeed. In fact, there are some weeks- usually when my husband is traveling, or other parts of my life have been especially difficult- when I feel like I’m constantly failing at being the type of mom that I want to be. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I absolutely have a breaking point when the reservoir of my patience and calm has been utterly spent. In those times, I can say I have yelled – loudly and scarily at my children. I have gritted my teeth, growled, and have generally acted closer to the big bad wolf than a kind and caring mom.
Afterwards I always feel a great deal of guilt. It’s a guilt more potent than worrying about my house being too messy or forgetting to bring cupcakes to preschool. Rather I feel a profound shame and fear that I am fundamentally not able to meet the demands of motherhood- that I am insufficient. During one of these moments, I happened to read about a concept called “Rupture and Repair” from Dr. Dan Siegel, which helped me pull myself out of my mom-shame spiral and reframe the situation in a positive way.
It turns out, I’m not alone. Most parents have moments when they “rupture” the relationship by failing to meet their child’s needs in some way or another. For example, my son needed me to be patient and understanding of his poor impulse control when he made a mess instead of putting on his shoes as we were running late this morning. I did not give understanding, but instead fussed at him and demanded he put his shoes on immediately “or else!” The repair side of the equation happens when the parent of caregiver makes amends and re-attunes to the child’s needs. In this case, I took a deep breath, sat my four-year-old down and apologized for yelling. I told him I was frustrated because we were running late, and I needed help getting out the door. I told him I would practice using a calmer voice and asked that he practice helping me more. I told him I loved him even when I’m sad, angry, or frustrated. He replied that he still loved me when he was sad too.
The beauty of rupture and repair is that, in this life where frustration and stress are inevitable, it can help prepare children to deal with those emotions within the context of a loving, secure relationship. When a parent offers a sincere apology, it shows the child how to come back from inadvertently hurting someone- an important life skill. It also shows that it is possible to make mistakes and still love unconditionally. In the end, when ruptures are relatively minor (no chronic abuse or neglect), and repairs are quick, being an imperfect parent actually helps children become more resilient and prepared for adulthood. So, while I won’t let myself off the hook completely- I will still need to practice controlling my emotions around my kids- perhaps I can kick the mom-guilt to the curb.
ICTF’s Grant Manager, Taryn Yates, had a regular parenting column in her hometown newspaper, The Idaho Fall’s Post Register from 2018-2019. We have assembled them all here on our website, and she will continue her parenting insights as a website blog.
Yates, Master in Social Work, is a grants manager and planner for the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund/Prevent Child Abuse Idaho.