Recently I gave a talk on Transforming Conflict Into Collaboration to the Women’s Business Council of the Albany Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce. I talked about being intentional about entering conflict, and doing so only after being clear it is not Made Up, that it Matters and that it actually involves Me. So, who was more surprised than I to watch myself, from a somewhat stunned distance, completely ignore all of this in the course of one recent, quick conflict gone wrong?
My daughter, who is 18 years old, regularly sits for a couple who come home routinely late, and by multiple hours (Red Flag #1- I was already mad). She was expecting to leave their house around 11:00 pm, and drive herself home.
Engrossed in schoolwork of my own, I looked at the clock and felt my stomach drop realizing the clock read 1:10 am.
Hands starting to shake, I called my daughter, texted her, called the parents, called the restaurant they own, where they often are late at night. No response.
My husband left to go to where he believed their new home was, and unable to wait a minute longer, I jumped in my car and went to their restaurant. I knew this was not a good plan (Red Flag #2), and that I should have waited for my husband to get there, yet I was in motion toward it anyway, face vibrating with anger, ignoring my own sensibilities and a veritable red flag parade or warnings. By the time I reached the restaurant, I was overwhelmed with fear, almost unable to drive safely. I walked dismissively by the bouncer who loomed over me in multipliers of height and girth, and saw the couple, beers in hand, laughing and chatting at a nearby table.
This would have been a good time to listen to the voice yelling into my ear to STOP! Breathe! Walk around! It might have helped me to realize that if they were there still, then my daughter was likely fine at their home, with an uncharged cell phone, and had not gotten into her car hours before and just never made it home. I might not have approached them, and through petrified, choking sobs, and said whatever I said (which was not helpful, I know, even though I can barely recall it), and which fired up a guilt + alcohol induced dramatic response in them that didn’t help either.
If I would have taken a breath, I would have also have seen that my husband, who is much less fiery in his constitution, was approaching and that he could have handled the situation much better than I was capable at the moment. But, I had lost all of my skills, and was already deeply, irrevocably ‘in it’- I wanted to shout, and blame and curse! And, I would have if not for the uncontrollable sobbing.
My daughter came home safely, and (eventually) acknowledged that she had not gone prepared with what she needed for a situation she could have anticipated. In a rather loud and shout-y way, I ‘helped’ her see the err of her ways, more than once, without taking a breath.
Once I pulled myself together, I knew I had made mistakes in this, too, but needed time to talk them through and think about them, so that the apology I would make would be honest and truly reflect what I wish I had handled better. Unable to sleep from the evening’s upset, I asked my husband Jon for help talking through what was mine, what I could have done better and where I needed to take full accountability for my words and actions. Once the apology was made to the parents, and to my daughter (who also apologized for her part for going unprepared), I felt so relieved.
I have never heard back from them, and not surprisingly, neither has my daughter.
I have a good friend, the kind who is loyal and will back me up no matter what, she says, “you’re a mama bear, you were scared!” She understands that visceral fear, the panic. It would be easy for me to agree- because, of course, that is what I would say to her! But, I know myself, and I know I could have made another choice about how to be 100% accountable for myself in this, but I did not.
It’s never too late to take 100% accountability for ourselves- as my long time friend, Fred Miller says, it is not the mistake you make, it’s what you do after.
And, next time, I’ll remember to breathe. Even, and especially, when it involves my cubs.