During a most recent horseback riding lesson, I was pushed far beyond my comfort zone and into the frustration and tears zone. I kept apologizing to the instructor for my failed attempts at a clear course and patted my horse in hopes that he would feel my remorse and not hold against me all the years that I have been out of the jumping circuit. I apologized to anyone that would listen—horses and people alike—and yearned for a rewind button to erase what was surely a cringe-worthy display of a human trying to coax a 1,500-pound animal over two-foot high jumps. While I held my breath and waited for what should have been an earful from my trainer, she uttered three words that I have found to be a game changer for all areas of my life: “Make it right.”
While general in its delivery, I have found this command can be tailored to fit any situation of my parenting and personal life. One of the many roles we own as moms is referee between or among siblings—and with a friend or two thrown in there on occasion. In an almost knee-jerk reaction, we find ourselves insisting that the child in the wrong apologize at that instant, and the child who was wronged accept it on the spot. I’m not sure about you, but there have been many times when I was on the receiving end of an apology yet felt hesitant to accept the words and move forward. I have also muttered a few “I’m sorrys” without being in a place of true and honest remorse for my actions.
Making it right after a disagreement with my husband looks different from encouraging my seven-year-old to make amends for taking her younger brother’s toys, which does not mirror the time when the same brother had to right the wrong of taking down his older sister’s fort. As a parent, I step back and feel victorious when I pull out a card that works in many situations. I relate that feeling to when you find a $20 bill in those shorts from last year or realize those leftovers do, in fact, equate to a complete dinner for the evening. While our acts of making it right may seem like replacements for an apology, in our home not all crimes are the same, and therefore, the repercussions and discussions afterward vary. When someone is tripped or bumped accidentally, an “I’m sorry” is required, followed by reminders on how to help (lend a hand, get an ice pack, ask an adult for a Band-Aid, etc). On the flip side, when a certain strong-willed older sister decides to change the rules in the middle of a game unbeknownst to her little brother, she must make it right. For that situation, she can either continue the game by following the correct set of rules or let her little brother pick a new game. She is most likely not sorry that she quit halfway through whatever activity they were engaged in, but her choices to make it right are limited and fair to all. Ironically, children crave boundaries by pushing them, so the simple act of her righting the wrong gives her the chance to make a choice within perimeters set by adults.
The choices I grant my kiddos suit both their personalities and the infraction and are designed to push them out of their comfort zones just a bit. For my confident firstborn, making it right might mean that she will read aloud an extra story to her little brother or place his phonics cards in alphabetical order. This allows her to perform a kind act for him while reminding her to use her strengths for someone else. If my youngest is acting out against his older sister, his version is usually more physical, so he must use his hands and ever-so-fast feet to collect the toys from her floor, all the while racing against the timer set just for him. It has taken a few trials and errors to detect what works best for each of them, and how much push and pull back is required. Just last week, they found themselves in what appeared to be another run-of-the-mill sibling spat, but my mama self wasn’t having it. We were only a month deep into school, but it felt like day 490, four of which occurred during 100-degree weather, and I was just d-o-n-e. Looking back on it now, their altercation was minor, but the spilled milk in the fridge, unread books, and lack of baths forced me to get everyone back on point and start over. I told them that to make it right for me, I needed some help. Despite my inner wish for a few “I’m sorry for not helping you out enough, Mom,” comments, my knowledge of child development and need for consistency with my making it right mentality took over. The time it took my kids to perform their acts of making it right granted me precious cool-down time that was so needed after the series of unfortunate after-school events that plagued us that day.
The adjustment of verbal cues from “I’m sorry” to “make it right” changed not only my outlook on this area of parenting, but the way I approach circumstances as a mother, wife, and friend. I’m more cognizant of my actions and what is required of me to make amends for my not-so-stellar actions, all the while being aware of all the eyes that constantly look at me for direction. They have heard me apologize, and they have witnessed me making it right. Although some of those times weren’t my proudest, they led me to recognize the importance of an apology and aided me in weighing the times when an act of service can stand in its place. I’ve dived into parenting and self-depths that caused me to question, ask, feel, and assess from the shoes of someone other than yours truly. Now, if I can only get my horse to make it right for not taking a jump or two, then I would have all areas covered in this wonderful sport of life.