As a coach/therapist, I’ve noticed that parents often overlook the importance of apologizing to their children for their own inappropriate behavior. The child unwittingly learns from the behavior displayed within the family system. Ensuring that the family environment is safe, and consistent, and fosters emotional intelligence is the responsibility of the parent.
However, this can be challenging when the parent’s limbic system is constantly in a sympathetic state. After being diagnosed correctly with complex post-traumatic stress (CPTS), I learned how to manage it successfully. Consequently, I was able to access the grounded parasympathetic state more consistently. Importantly, my family also noticed the positive changes. It’s worth noting that I use the term “response” instead of “disorder” since a traumatic response is natural – we just tend to get stuck in that state until we find a safe place with a compassionate witness.
Feeling parental guilt can be difficult, especially when we realize how much better we could have behaved after reflecting on our actions. I have found that I apologize more sincerely and from the heart when I express myself through writing, sometimes in the form of poetry. The objective is to transform pain into purpose and power slowly and intentionally, adapting the approach that works best for you.
Recently, I chose to apologize to my family through a poem during a particularly stressful period when I underwent major surgery. I deliberately worked on maintaining a steady nervous system and communicated this to my family, which they appreciated. I acknowledged that my mood was not helpful, but I was actively working on improving it. I kept as quiet as possible, used a specific breath pattern (4, 8, 12), and focused on gratitude for my children who made an intentional effort to be with me and take care of me after the surgery, despite living in Denver.
However, due to being highly stressed, it took a certain tone and one word to trigger me and cause me to “flip my lid” (referring to Dr. Dan Siegel’s hand model of the brain when traumatized – easily found on YouTube).
My apology took the form of the following poem:
She sat there, frightened,
Too horrified to breathe,
Her mind was trapped in 1973,
The cold sweat on her face,
Brought her back to now, 2023.
By then, her terror storm had disrupted her sense of safety,
No words could form,
Her voice was too shaky.
So she asked, “Please look at me,
See into my eyes,
The deep-seated terror,
That prevents me from speaking and expressing sorrow,
It has hindered my ability to say anything at all.
My commitment to slowing down and focusing on my breath,
Confirmed that it is safe now,
I am here in 2023,
This reality is true,
I am no longer helpless or powerless to protect both you and me.
Now, I can speak,
This safety is most assuredly true,
Here, I can speak and see beautiful you,
Your caring and kind eyes, resembling mine,
Remind me that you, too, have survived a mom out of time.
Your shine and laugh ground me Now,
Loving you has taught me that I matter,
Regardless of the pain of the latter.
It is here, where we embrace gratitude,
And remain together forever,
A mom and her Sun,
Lighting the world,
For all to see,
Love always wins,
Especially for you and me.
I’m not suggesting you apologize in the same way I did, as there are numerous ways to apologize. However, it is essential to address feelings of guilt. I have a post on Instagram inspired by Anodea Judith, from her audiobook “Eastern Body, Western Mind.”
I hope this piece has inspired new ways for you to model the kind of adult you want your child to become. Remember, they learn from the family dynamics they are unwillingly immersed in. Our behavior serves as a blueprint for their actions – they model us.