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Be a Safe Landing — A Parenting Lesson

“What happened to your report?” his mom yelled across the big, open foyer. The boy, who was about 9, stopped playing with the other kids, hunched his shoulders down and mumbled a response.

“What?” she yelled.

“Get over here!” his grandma chimed in.

The boy left the exciting, fast-paced, imaginary game to stand before his mother and grandmother and be loudly chastised for lackluster performance at school.




I was sitting on the other end of the foyer, waiting for my daughter to finish her dance class. I was far enough away that I wasn’t involved, but close enough that it was hard to avoid noticing what was happening.

As punishment, the boy wasn’t allowed to return to play with the other siblings of dance students.

I felt terrible for his humiliation, but also couldn’t help thinking about how often I yell instead of offer compassion. I don’t yell in public, but does that make it any better?

A few minutes later, the boy’s dad arrived. Again, I tried to avoid the business of this family, but they weren’t really trying to be discrete either, so I couldn’t help but catch what was going on.

His dad must have been informed of his son’s school infraction ahead of time, because he came marching into that foyer with angry purpose. In seconds, he had walked the long length of the space and stood over his son yelling, “Why didn’t you do your book report?”

The boy sat hunched on the ground and avoided his dad’s eyes.

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“WHY?” came the angry question again as the father towered over his crouching son.

“WHY? WHY? WHY?”

“He doesn’t know!” I wanted to shout. It was obvious to me. The boy didn’t know why he hadn’t done his report. Maybe there was an explanation, but he couldn’t pull it up in the face of such intimidation. The father continued his tirade, and once it was out of his system, he sat down.

Eventually, it seemed all was forgiven (at least for the time being), and the family talked and joked together.

Like Looking in the Worst Mirror

I hurt for the boy, but I also hurt for my own children. The father was wrong, but I wasn’t judging from a high horse. I was seeing a mirror, and it hurt. In fact, every time I see a parent lose it in public, I don’t judge. Instead, I think, “Oh, so that’s what I look like. I should stop.”

How many times have I been the angry parent demanding answers? How many times have I let my anger guide my reactions to my children’s mistakes? How many times have I made my children feel ashamed, rather than gently coach and correct them?




I hate what happened to that boy, but it was a wake-up call to me. As I watched what I couldn’t avoid and couldn’t stop, I understood my purpose more clearly: I am not meant to intimidate my children. I am bigger, smarter, and stronger than my children, but that does not mean I should ever use those strengths against my children. Instead, those advantages are given to me so I can protect my children.

Be a Safe Landing

I have a very wise friend who feels it is her duty to be her children’s safe landing. Life is going to be hard. She wants to always be the place where they can return for comfort and security. She says it so much more eloquently than that, but her thoughts ring so true to me, and they have become a bit of a parenting motto in my life. Reframing myself as my children’s safe landing, rather than their enforcer, has helped me to see their struggles with empathy. When I am their safe space, I can see my children as children, not adults who should know better. I can forgive their childish mistakes and gently coach them to learn the lessons those mistakes were designed to teach.

It isn’t easy, and I make plenty of mistakes. It seems that as soon as I master one element of calm, my children develop a new way to get under my skin. I have one child who will push and push until I explode. It’s as if she’s hard-wired for conflict, and as if she physically can’t stop until conflict ends in an outburst. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to be this child’s safe landing.

I’m constantly frustrated with myself, but I’m determined to be that safe landing. And as I make a conscious effort to avoid intimidation and embrace softness, I see happy results.

One Small Step of Progress, One Giant Leap of Confidence

After dance class that day, my two daughters and I went to a mother/daughter cookie exchange where we played guessing games with each other. Each of us had a white board, and were supposed to secretly write answers to questions that we would all then reveal at the same time.

When the prompt was to ask my daughters what makes them happiest, I was thrilled to see that we all wrote the same answer on our white boards:

Hugs.

It was a confirmation of what I had been told earlier while that father towered over his son: Do not intimidate.

Instead, they need hugs.

Instead, they need love.

Instead, they need to be cherished.

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{My children do not know how to smile and look at the camera at the same time. Because of this, there was much exasperation in this photo shoot. I may not have been thinking about being a safe landing as I grunted, growled, and threatened for those semi-smiles.}




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  • Linda January 10, 2017, 9:23 am

    You are a safe landing for me too. Thanks

  • Emily Hill January 10, 2017, 2:39 pm

    This is a REALLY great reminder. Though I don’t set New Year’s resolutions, I am going to try harder to use my “mom voice” less this year.