Monday, March 1, 2010

"Sorry" is the hardest word.

The other night I was struggling to get my son into bed. He was wired. He’d been to a birthday party and crammed his little cake-hole with plenty of junk. It was well past his bedtime to boot. I was aware of the combination of circumstances, which was the only thing that was preventing me from an outburst. I was tired. I knew that this wasn’t usually how my child behaved at bedtime, and was able to cut him a bit of slack. But it was still trying.

I managed to wrestle him into his pajamas and got him to snuggle down for a short story. Finally, I kissed him goodnight, and was heading out the door. I hadn’t really seen my wife all day and was looking forward to some child-free time to catch up. Just then, my son spoke up.

“Dad,” he said, “you forgot my glass of water.”

Part of the nightly routine is to get him a glass of cold water. He likes it cold so I let the tap run for a second or two to get it beyond luke-warm. That is, I do that every time except on this night. Feeling tired and a little grumpy myself, I let out a sigh, ran to the bathroom, got him some water, set it by his bed and wished him goodnight.

I got half way down the stairs when I heard him again.

“Dad,” he called, “the water isn’t cold.”

“It’s cold enough, sweetheart. Go to bed”

“But dad, I want cold water”

“Good night”

“No, but dad….”

“Good night, Connor”

Then came the wailing.

I grumped my way down the stairs, and could still hear him howling for cold water.

“What’s going on?” my wife asked.

“Ah, he’s all upset that I didn’t get him cold water” I said half annoyed and half chuckling.

“But we always get him cold water at bedtime. What do you expect?”

I stopped in my tracks. My wife was right.

Feel free to question my parenting skills for establishing a nightly routine of cold water in the glass. I have no problem if you think that is spoiling my child. I think you would be hard pressed, however, to say that my son’s reaction was out of order. From months of routine, he had come to expect something from me. To change it arbitrarily must have made no sense to him at all. His response was totally understandable.

I went upstairs, and sat on the foot of his bed. “You know what, sweetheart, I’m sorry. I was wrong. Let me get you a glass of cold water.”

Letting him cry himself to sleep wouldn’t have killed him, but what would that have served? I suppose there could have been a “life isn’t always what you expect” lesson but he, like the rest of us, gets enough of those on a day to day basis. I thought it was more valuable to show him that it’s ok to admit when you’ve made a mistake: that there is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m sorry.”

As dads, we’ve all gotten into a battle of wills with our kids, and quietly asked ourselves, “Now why did I pick this fight?” There are, unquestionably, moments where to not hold your ground is a mistake, but it isn’t always that way. In those moments, I challenge you to look beyond “winning” for winning’s sake and see if an admission of error and an apology can set things right. It might feel odd, but I think you are actually teaching your child a valuable lesson.

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