Monday, August 23, 2010

The Power of Contrition

Tonight before dinner, while they were supposed to be washing their hands, the kids squirted hand soap in the toilet.

Why?  I'm sure I couldn't tell you.  I'm sure they couldn't either.  I'll chalk it up to the irresistible call of science.  What would happen if...

Our toilet seems no worse for the soapy wear.  My tired body and frazzled nerves were, though.  It wasn't so much this particular incident as the series of thoughtless acts that have littered our last few days--each insignificant in itself yet culminating in a roar of frustration.  Arghhhhh!  Enough already.

We talked about their decisions over the last few days at bedtime in lieu of reading books.  Not in the "mommy's-really-angry-and-lecturing-in-a crisp-cool-voice" but in a "mommy's-really-weary-and-wondering-why-we-can't-just-make-life-easier-for each-other" kind of way.  I laid out my feelings, we prayed as we do every night, and after we said, "Amen," Ben seemed to get it, expressing genuine repentance a few times: "I feel sad about my decisions, Mommy...I'm wondering why I did that, like Pickles the Cat...I'm sorry for making you feel that way."  (Pickles the Fire Cat, in the book of the same name, begins his life chasing small cats from his yard, but when he becomes the fire cat and learns to help, he feels remorseful for his previous behavior, wondering why he treated others so poorly.)  

Ben's contrite spirit is everything on a day when I've wondered if anything I'm doing as a mommy is effective.  And it makes me wonder about parenting.  In the end, it seems the most effective parenting moments I have are based on relationship.  Mommy is a person.  Ben is a person.  Abby is a person.  We all have to get along in this house and in this world.  How can we best do that?  

I'm sure childishness will strike again, but hearing even just one sincere apology renews my patience one hundred-fold.  I apologized tonight, too, for lacking patience and for channeling my frustration into my voice.  We all confessed.  Then we all forgave each other.  And we all went to bed at peace with each other.

Confession.  Forgiveness.  They are oft-neglected but powerful antidotes to all that is ugly within us.

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