This story is a sweet exploration of the unconditional love of a parent, and also teaches that love involves helping a child to make amends when they get things wrong. Another gentle message in the story is that parents get things wrong, too – all parents get cross and shout sometimes, but this does not mean that they do not love their child, or that they are a bad parent.
The little girl thinks of situations in which she might mess up or do things she isn’t supposed to do, from crayoning on the carpet to pulling down the curtains, to pinching the baby. Her mother responds playfully & lets her know that if the situations were even worse than the little girl had imagined, she would continue to love her, no matter what. Even if her daughter had played so rough, she pulled down the Empire State Building, she would love her but also make her pick it up again! Eventually, the girl confesses that she has accidentally broken a precious vase, playing ball in the house. Her mother says she would still love her even if it wasn’t an accident, but she might also get cross & shout before being able to help her clear it up.
The story illustrates the ‘two handed approach’ that we aim for in therapeutic parenting – love and acceptance, alongside clear structure and boundaries. We think about how we can connect with our children through a PACE-ful approach (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity & empathy) helping them to feel understood, before we move to correct their behaviour & help them to learn from their mistakes. Both of these hands of parenting are important, but correction is always easier if we have connected first. But this isn’t easy to do all of the time!
When I work with adoptive parents and foster carers, so often they are feeling disappointed and cross with themselves for not being therapeutic enough in their parenting. They beat themselves up for the times that they haven’t responded with empathy and curiosity towards their children, often in the face of very difficult behaviour. They hold on to the times they have shouted or reacted harshly and worry that they are failing. I’m a firm believer in supporting parents to be kinder to themselves and to understand that anyone might find such circumstances difficult. Our mantra becomes ‘we don’t do perfect’ – we are aiming for good enough and recognise that there are some days when even this will seem ambitious! All families experience conflict, it is a natural part of family life, but the important thing is how we reconnect and repair. A parent being able to admit when they have made a mistake and being able to say sorry when they get things wrong is a great role model.
‘Even If I Did Something Awful’ is a useful book to read together in therapy for both parent and child. It helps the child to learn that even when their parent sets limits and consequences, they still love them. And it reminds parents that we are all human & sometimes we shout & lose our tempers. In this story the mother shouts & cries a little when her favourite vase gets broken, but then she helps her daughter pick up the pieces. A lovely metaphor for relational repair between a parent and child.