“She walks to the beat of a different drummer,” my husband said, “and that’s two steps behind the rest of us.” This is the way he described our daughter’s tendency to run behind schedule for just about everything in her young life. This, in part, accounted for the reason I scolded her without mercy all the way to her piano lesson one morning. I reminded her of how inconsiderate it was of her to always be late. I prompted her to recall who was paying for the lessons and driving her to piano lessons. I wondered aloud why she couldn’t be more considerate of others. By the time we pulled up to the teacher’s house, I had nearly exhausted my diatribe and she couldn’t have looked happier to get out of the car and away from me. When she was gone, I sat there alone and considered what had just transpired.
Two voices argued away in my head. One reminded me that I was the mother and I had a right and a responsibility to help my child be more punctual. The other questioned whether my method of motivation was having any effect at all, other than to intimidate and harass my daughter. Did I expect her to agree with me and say, “You’re right Mom. You know, I never thought of it quite like that before, but I guess I am being discourteous and ungrateful for all that you do for me. I can see why you would be so frustrated. In fact, I understand why you yelled at me all the way to piano lessons. It was so unpleasant for both of us that from now on, I’m going to be on time. I want you to know how much I value all that you do for me. After all, I’m only 10 years old and I depend on you for a lot.”?
The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I became with my own behavior. The dilemma now became what I would do about it. I did have a valid point in wanting her to be timely, but the intensity with which I delivered my remarks was totally over the top. I could hardly expect her to listen to my message when it was delivered with enough drama to earn an Emmy. She may have been late, but I was out of line in my manner of delivery. I realized that I could apologize, but would that negate the problem with her behavior? Would that weaken my position as a parent? Weren’t parents supposed to set the rules and standards? If I acknowledged a problem with my behavior, would it help her recognize the problem with hers?
Eventually my daughter returned to the car with a bedraggled expression on her face. She appeared none too eager to return to the “den of the tiger,” as she probably experienced me that morning. It wasn’t the way I wanted to start the day, so I took a deep breath and became accountable for my behavior.
“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry for the way I scolded you all the way to piano lessons. You were late, but I was wrong in the way I handled it. I didn’t talk to you about it in a very nice voice. I didn’t handle the situation well at all. I feel bad about that. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
Surprised, she looked at me and remarked, “Sure, Mom, I’ll forgive you.” And that was pretty much the end of it. We didn’t process her “lateness.” (There would be future opportunities for me to deal with that issue in a more constructive manner.) We just smiled at each other, changed to a more light-hearted topic of conversation, and drove on to school, both of us apparently feeling much better.
As I have reflected on this event in the years since, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to think about how my daughter probably learned much more from me that morning about being accountable for one’s own issues and apologizing for them, than she ever did from my lecture about punctuality. It occurred to me that children might learn more from what they see and experience their parents doing, as opposed to what they hear them saying. Today we live in an age where accountability is sometimes hard to find. If we want others, and especially our children, to be accountable for their actions, choices and decisions, we might start by acknowledging our own part and responsibility in any given concern and then focusing on doing something different before we open our mouths to give direction to others.