Ruptures Are Inevitable, Repair is Optional

illustration of a father comforting his crying teenage daughterToday, I took a time out. I had been feeling irritable all day and was struggling to find patience with the many requests from my toddler. It seems she was probably feeling the same way – the day seemed to drag, we couldn’t quite find an activity that was mutually satisfying, and I’d had to say ‘no’ to a lot of things she had wanted.

By mid-afternoon, I had reached my limit. I could feel my own anger bubbling up. I knew that if I didn’t do something, I was going to end up saying something mean, or start yelling.

I had a choice – I could stay where I was and let the anger spill out – yelling or saying something harsh, or I could step away and take the breather that I desperately needed. I let my daughter know I was feeling angry and needed to take a time out and went into my bedroom and shut the door. She followed and sat outside the room crying and calling for me to come back. I paced around, taking deep breaths. It felt good to have some distance, even though I could hear her right there on the other side of the door.

Soon, I felt the anger easing. I started to feel compassion again for the little girl who needed me to comfort her. I opened the door and picked her up, holding her close. My own calm seemed to help her, and she started to settle. “I don’t want mummy to go in her room” she said, “I don’t like that.” Of course, I knew this, but I also knew that me stepping away for a minute or so was going to be easier to repair than if I had really lost it. We sat together for a while, talking about what had happened. I explained that I had been feeling angry and frustrated and needed a break to calm down. “I didn’t know where you were” she said. “That must have felt confusing and scary – I bet it’s hard for you when I walk away like that.” We chatted a bit more about the experience and I apologized for frightening her by walking away. This conversation felt good – for the first time that day, I felt a sense of calm and ease. And I felt proud that I had made the choice to repair the rupture. We were feeling connected once again.

As I pushed her on the swing in the backyard, I wondered if my simmering anger all day had been more impactful than I’d realized. That’s one thing I know for sure from Circle of Security – my state of mind affects my child, and if I’m not doing well, she’s not doing well.

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