A couple of years ago I observed a fellow mom say three words that changed my parenting style.
I don’t actually remember the exact exchange between her and her very young daughter, but I remember my friend’s response.
In the most even-toned, patient voice, she said, “Try again, please.”
Her daughter stopped, thought for a second, and tried again.
My family is large, maybe a little too sarcastic, prone to raising our voices, and sometimes we communicate by eye rolling. The thought of simply saying in a kind voice, “Try again, please” seemed revolutionary, so I began using the phrase in my everyday conversations with my kids thinking it couldn’t be that easy.
But I noticed a difference in myself almost immediately. Instead of instant annoyance when my kids didn’t listen the first time or quick frustration when one of my kids responded disrespectfully, asking them to try again helped me pause just as much as it helped them pause. Every time I said, “Try again, please,” I was reminding myself that they’re in the middle of growing up and they don’t have everything figured out yet.
This allowed me to value growth instead of demanding perfection.
A couple of weeks ago, this phrase came full circle. As we entered the final stretch of a long road trip, my youngest daughter somehow wedged a doll in between her car seat straps and demanded we pull over in a not so sweet voice.
I mustered every last ounce of patience and evenly said, “Try again, please.”
In a somewhat nicer voice, she asked if we could stop the van and rescue her doll. Since I was concerned the doll could compromise the safety of her seatbelt (and because she asked and didn’t demand), I pulled over.
Reaching the doll required awkwardly climbing into the second row of the van and leaning over another daughter to the third row. I fumbled around trying to find the right angle so I wouldn’t step on anyone in the process of doll retrieval. The longer it took, the sweatier I became, and the less patience I had. Ultimately, I grew frustrated, raised my voice, and used a not-so-sweet tone myself.
Complete silence and stillness followed my outburst.
My four-year-old, eyes wide, looked intently at me and asked in the most genuine voice, “Mommy, would you like to try again?”
There was so much I appreciated about that moment. She recognized that wasn’t my best response, she trusted me enough to allow me to try again, and she was quick to forgive. Her heartfelt response to my outburst reminded me I need just as much grace and forgiveness. I frequently make mistakes, fail miserably, lack judgment, and selfishly make decisions that benefit myself more than others.
If I’m honest, I need the opportunity to try again daily.
“Yes, I would like to try again.”
My kids are growing up in a world where they’ll be one tweet away from being “cancelled.” One comment away from being shunned. One opinion away from life as an outcast.
I see this type of cancel culture all around us right now. As people with very different philosophies and ideologies struggle to make sense of how to navigate a worldwide pandemic, it’s become more common to ignore and disengage with people who share different views.
People are anxious, defensive, scared, exhausted, overwhelmed, and very fallible. We’ll probably all post something, say something, or do something that’s not our best over the next few months. At least I know I will. I’m going to do my best to be honest and encouraging, but when I fail, I hope to find people who will look me in the eye and ask if I’d like to try again. People who will hold me accountable, help me reflect on how I can do better, trust me enough to give me another opportunity, and walk with me as I continue to learn and grow.