Open-Source Parenting: “Make It Right”

Several years ago, I was introduced to the luminous Rachelle Mee-Chapman through her post about morning soul-care time with her little girls (who are both lovely full-grown teenagers now, which, how??). I never adopted the practice for myself—due mostly to the fact that I am soulless zombie first thing in the a.m.—but Rachelle’s creative, conversation-driven approach to her children’s spirituality stuck with me. I had the privilege to host her at our home a couple of years later, and watching her interact with my girls was one of my favorite things about her visit. Her parenting strategies and perspectives were straight-up gifts for me.

I was thinking over it this morning—how my mothering has been shaped over the years by others’ mama-wisdom. I used to lament that babies didn’t come with instruction manuals even as I read What to Expect the First Year, which is about as comprehensive a baby instruction manual as you can get. I didn’t just want to know what to expect though… or even what the experts recommended I do in any given situation; I wanted to know the how and the why. I wanted the kind of perspective that comes from experience, the kind that’s transmitted through stories rather than bullet points.

I’m so grateful for friends like Rachelle who have provided that for me through the early years of child-raising, and I’d like to pay it forward now by sharing a series of my own intentional parenting practices. Maybe you’ll be able to relate to some of them and maybe not, but I believe in open-source wisdom, and I’d love to hear your take in the comments or on Facebook. (Even if you’re not a parent, you were once a kid yourself; I’d still love to have your voice in the conversation!) Shall we get started?

My girls spend a solid eight hours a day in each other’s company, plus more on weekends. They go to the same school, share many of the same friends (and sometimes clothes!), and are each other’s most constant playmate. In a lot of ways, this is a beautiful experience for them. Growing up in a conga line of brothers, I often wished for a sister close in age so that I could have exactly the kind of glitter-coated rapport that my girls have with each other.

Spending so much time together, however, provides ample opportunity for them to step on each other’s toes… sometimes literally. One sister pushes the other’s buttons or breaks one of her toys or says something insulting or accidentally-on-purpose bumps into her with her fist, and we have A Situation on our hands. Ideally, the girls would work it out with each other, but they’re currently eight and six, and we’re still working on the whole independent problem-solving thing. Their first recourse is almost always one single word, spoken at the same decibel level and in much the same tone as a displeased chimpanzee: “MOOOMMMMMM!”

I start by trying to tone down the emotional energy in the room so that they can hear beyond their own indignation, and once I’ve gotten the facts of the case, I tell the offending party[ies] the same thing I always tell them, whether the hurt has been emotional or physical, intentional or not: “You need to make it right.”

I’m not sure exactly when this phrase entered our family. I didn’t grow up with it, and when the girls were much younger, I’d instruct them to say they were sorry if they’d hurt someone. It was such a simple thing to ask of them. It didn’t sit quite right with me though. For one thing, kids often hurt or offend each other without meaning to; asking them to feel sorry for an innocent mistake is inviting protest and might result in more bruised feelings. Second, what about a genuine grievance for which the perpetrator doesn’t feel remorse? I don’t see a grumbled “sorry” as capable of righting any wrongs. (My friend Allison has an excellent post about that here.)

At some point, “make it right” became part of our family vocabulary, and it’s turned out to be our go-to template for solving the girls’ skirmishes. Depending on the situation, making it right could mean anything from offering a hug to procuring a Band-Aid to replacing a broken toy. We usually put the impetus on the girls to figure out what would fix the situation; Dan and I want them to be cultivating this skill now in the safe space of our home so that they can rely on it throughout life when the stakes might be higher than their little sister’s indignation. And yes, nine times out of ten, the problem is mended with a quick apology… but we don’t insist on remorse. We do insist on thoughtful reconciliation.

Puzzle party

“Make it right” applies to us parents too, but that’s a post for another day. What are your thoughts? How do you help your kiddos (or others’) handle their inevitable clashes? Are you for more parental direction or less when troubleshooting hurt feelings? Is there a strategy that absolutely hasn’t worked for you? Let’s have a conversation!

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  1. I love this so much. I think I used a similar phrase, if not the exact one when I taught kindergarten/first grade. I don’t know why I don’t use it with my kids. I usually just say “Knock it off!” And that seems to work. My Nicholas likes to pester, and I label that for him. Sarah likes to boss and gets very indignant, and I label that for her. Katie likes to pull the “poor me” “that’s fine, I don’t need a cookie” or gets really mad and blows up. I label those behaviors for her as well. What doesn’t work? When they start labeling each other’s behaviors. Then I ask, “Are you the parent?” That usually shuts it down. I also tell them to take time away, not as a “time out” but I will say, maybe you need some alone time? Now they tell me when they do, and disappear. Whew. Parenting is hard. Disclaimer: I blow up and boss and pull the poor me and pester. I am glad I have grown out of people labeling it for me.

  2. I looove this!
    And I really like your point of ‘make ot right’. I grew up with the ‘tell them you’re sorry’ and if it was a sibling, a hug would most of the time be insisted on.
    I can’t wait for the future posts on this subject! (And I am so going to step over and read those posts you linked to!)

  3. I kinda really totally like the idea of Megsie’s ‘take time away’ suggestion for older kids. Hmmm.

  4. Megsie – I love that you label your kids’ behavior. I can only imagine how much help it will be to them to be able to identify their reactions throughout life. And yes, I need the disclaimer too… but we’re doing good work, mama. We’re doing the hard work, and sounds like it’s working for both our families!

    Beka – I dig the “time away” suggestion too! So much more redeeming than traditional time out. Thanks for being here, friend!

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