Repairing Relationships When They've Gone to Pot

March 21, 2020

Currently, many of us parents are taking the meaning of “work/family balance” to an entirely new level.  Our children (and maybe spouses) are home and we are searching for innovative ways to continue to support our clients and pay our own bills.  Additionally, we are part of a global crisis that affects us all in various ways.  Anxiety is high and there are no easy answers – this is messy!  Literally and figuratively – seriously, earlier today our five-year-old was sitting on top of a mound of laundry playing ABC mouse.  I started to tell him to get OFF of the CLEAN LAUNDRY, but then it occurred to me that there was nowhere else to sit.  Our laundry has simply taken on a life of its own around here!  I just took a deep breath and headed into our bedroom for our weekly, virtual staff meeting.   Deep, deep sigh. 

Each day this week I have been reminded of something that has saved us time and time again in the Jobe family.  We so strive to be the kind of family that engages in calm connection.  Connection before correction.  Relationship and connection before and above all else. . . AND we’re human.  Shoot!  I am just so darn imperfect – just ask those closest to me.  I’m passionate.  I’m direct.  I’m sometimes loud.  I sometimes struggle with anxiety.  I can be controlling at times, and I hope that someday my children will use the words “fierce love” to describe me.  As a recovering perfectionist connection not perfection is my mantra.  A commitment to repair has kept our loving family intact.  We regularly practice something we call do-overs – the opportunity to make repair in our relationships.  The opportunity to practice doing the right thing.  I hope to breathe a bit of life into what we mean by do-overs with this personal story.

To read more about do-overs read this blog by Reccia Jobe and Rebecca Hubbard. Do-overs Part 1: Building new pathways in the brain by intentionally practicing something different

  A few weeks ago we had a small Super Bowl party at our house after a long day of teaching one of our Fundamentals Trainings.  This means. . . I had just spent two days teaching about regulation and connection and healthy relationships . . . Then I went home. . . and started preparing dinner with our guests.  Within about 15 minutes of my return home, while my back was turned and I was chopping an onion (or something) I heard my 5-year-old scream.  The shrill scream of a child in pain.  I felt fear and the action I took was reflexive.  I experienced the kind of fear that is cued by something in the environment – my child’s scream and the realization that he was stuck in a kitchen pot (YET AGAIN!  He and his sister had been stuck in said pot several times over the last week) and in pain as one of our guests tried to pull him out!  This fear caused a rush of adrenaline with increased heart rate and respiration as my body naturally and immediately prepared for flight or fight.  (Here you can visit a great blog about the difference between fear, anxiety, and panic and what we can do.)  I did both flight and fight.  I reflexively ran to my son, grabbed him by the shoulders, and screamed “I have told you to quit putting your body in this pot,” and then I safely picked up his folded body and gently shook it until the pot fell off.  He was, indeed, physically safe, but I had greatly compromised his emotional safety - I had done damage to our relationship.  With wide eyes, he ran to his room immediately and then started crying.  At first, I went back to cutting an onion (or something) and then I felt an unconscious breath come into my body followed by a huge wave of guilt.  When I went into Cooper’s room he was crying.  I sat down on the bed next to him and asked if he wanted to tell me what he was sad about.  He said, “You scared me (then there was a pause) and embarrassed me too.”  I looked into his tear-filled eyes, put my arms around his little 5-year-old body, and said, “Oh sweetie, of course you were.  I got really scared and then I yelled really loud. . . and I did that in front of our guests.”  He interrupted me and said quite pragmatically, “Yes Mom you were out of self-control.”  I inwardly chuckled just a bit and suggested a do-over.  I said, “You are right.  I was out of self-control.  Do you think we could have a do-over?”  He happily agreed to this – he’s done plenty of do-overs so he was thrilled for this one to be on me.  

We went to the kitchen and I apologized to our guests and explained that Cooper and I needed to have a do-over.  I went back to the counter and pretended to cut something.  Cooper got in the pot (partially) and screamed in pain.  I went to him quickly, but this time I gently grabbed his shoulders and I said with warmth, kindness, and assertiveness, “Cooper please keep your body safe.  I don’t want you to get hurt because I love you so much.  This is why I have asked you to stop putting your body in this pot.”  I had a second before this interaction to think about how to best have a boundary and, in this case, kindly set one.  I try very hard to request what I want – in this case, for Cooper to keep his body safe – instead of focusing on what I don’t want – for him to stop putting his body in this darn pot!  Here’s a blog on this subject.  I then gave him a little kiss on the cheek and helped him out.  We had a quick discussion to review why it’s important that Cooper keep his body safe, and he made a commitment to never get in the pot again.  (By the way, it hasn’t happened since.  Fingers crossed!) 

We then continued with our little party.  Repair is more than an apology.  Repair has to be experienced.  We need to practice doing the right thing.  Practice does not make perfect, but it is required for improvement and growth.  We have to try.  We have to show up.  We have to be willing to make mistakes.  AND we have to learn to revel in the repair.  Embrace it.  In NL, this is what we mean by creating brave spaces.  Maybe while we’re at home during this time we can commit to practicing repair – there simply isn’t a shortage of opportunity for most of us!  Practice the kind of repair that moves beyond an apology, and means that we go back and try again.  This kind of repair requires grace and a commitment to connection from all involved - grace that provides space for do-overs, repair, and real healing.  Deep, complete healing and profound, transformative connection.  Y’all, we’ve got this!

Here is another one of our blogs that might be of interest to you during this time:

Is There a Difference Between a Tantrum and a Meltdown?