The memory is vivid. Our eldest son Daniel was quick with his tongue when unhappy. Quick and usually ugly. One day I was sternly (…OK harshly) disciplining my daughter for laziness, and she burst into tears. Daniel emerged from his room brashly declaring, “Way to go, ogre!” My face went flush, my ears got hot, and I impulsively drew my hand back in the initial motion of a backhanded slap to his cheek.
He jumped back in fear and I knew I was out of line.
Nice example, oh wise parenting sage. Only a strong commitment to regrouping when I felt this way salvaged this moment. My hot ears and flush face was my signal. I needed a time out.
The gift I hope to give to parents today is twofold. First, know that when you produce ugly parenting moments like the one I did, you are not alone. Most parents “lose it” from time to time. We go over the edge and treat our kids in ways we regret later. But it doesn’t have to be defining. In fact, it can actually provide you with another powerful parenting moment; the opportunity to be an example of humility and repentance, as well as a graceful disciplinarian.
As I recognized my own need for a time out, I took a deep breath, and stepped back from the situation. It’s amazing how quiet the kids get in that instant when their parent might blow, but instead gets quiet. Their fear creates a rare moment of openness, rooted in the all important question, “What’s he gonna do next?”
In that instant, my next move is perhaps the most impactful teaching opportunity I have with my kids. If I indeed go over the edge, I teach my kids that going over the edge is the way to gain control in life. Especially if I do it habitually. But if I can collect myself, calm down, and admit and confess my own sin, I teach my kids about repentance, reconciliation, and humility. This is why I made taking my own time outs a priority in my parenting.
As I settled down that day I quickly apologized to Bethany for yelling when I didn’t need to. I asked her forgiveness, which she gave, and then calmly solved the problem of her disobedience. I confessed to Daniel that it was wrong to scare him with my threatened backhand slap. I received his forgiveness and then addressed his admirable, but disrespectful desire to protect his sister. My own time out helped me lead the kids through a constructive time of reconciliation.
Sure, I went over the edge from time to time. Especially in those intense younger years when the kids were out of control and I was still learning. But as I learned grace for myself through my own time outs, it became more normal to bring grace to my kids.
So try it. Next time you feel like you’re gonna blow, take a time out. Let us know how it goes.
Have you been able to turn a situation around by giving yourself a “time out”? Share your story in the comments below.