As we prepared to go the gym for our morning workout, my wife discovered that she had misplaced her car keys. We searched for ten minutes and finally found them in the car, still in the ignition. Unfortunately, the battery was dead because she was listening to the radio when she left the car the day before.
We called Triple-A, and the tow-truck came to start the car. Problem solved. We went to the gym later that morning.
But somewhere in the process, maybe when I realized she had left the car with the radio on, there was a perilous moment. My disappointment could have escalated to frustration or even anger. I could have thought, “How could you leave the car keys in the car – with the radio on?”
Or maybe I could have actually said the words. Or worse. How about: “Why don’t you pay attention to what you’re doing?” Or “What’s the matter with you?”
Of course they do. It wouldn’t surprise me if some version of this scenario happened a million times a day across the planet.
But it’s a costly mistake, for several reasons.
For one thing, it’s hurtful. For example, if you react to your daughter in anger over a stupid mistake, it’s verbally punishing. She’s probably already feeling bad about it. But to have you pile on and put her down would attack her self-esteem. And that’s the last thing you want. Low self-esteem makes a teenager vulnerable to all kinds of bad decisions. Her life is already challenging, and she needs to be strong and confident.
Besides, you love her.
The other reason it’s a mistake is that you’re not in a position to criticize. You’ve done similar things yourself – probably more than once. Who hasn’t? People aren’t perfect. And getting distracted and leaving your keys in the car is a good example of what imperfect people do. As for me, at this point in my life I realize that almost everything that people can do to annoy me are things that I’ve done myself at one time or another.
And besides, it’s a small thing. Trivial. Petty. The correct thing for you to do is forgive her instantly. And reassure her that it’s no big deal.
Do you want your relationships with your child to remain close, even grow stronger as she grows into an adult? It’s all too easy to give in to anger and lash out. It does take a certain amount of strength to keep your composure and deal with your frustration without hurting the person you care about. But if you care about your relationship with your child, you’ll make the effort.
Forgive the small things.