Today my eight year old son broke a cereal bowl.

I had done the washing up after breakfast and called out to him and his father to dry as I walked out of the kitchen. He started on the job himself as his father was still at breakfast.

I heard the crash and yelled, ‘Why are you doing the drying yourself?’

And found a little boy in tears. He had hurt himself trying to catch the bowl as it slipped, and he was upset that the incident had happened at all.

I held him and soothed him, asked how he was, massaged his hurt fingers, and told him it was quite alright that the bowl had been broken – ‘we have been breaking these bowls for years now’ – there are three left from the original set of eight.

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I also apologized for my irritation at him doing the drying up himself, and explained there was a misunderstanding – I had thought he and his father were going to do the drying together, while he thought he was to do it once he was ready to, regardless of what his father was up to.

I then thanked him for doing the drying up himself, and complimented him on the number of dishes he had got through.

Eventually the tears subsided, our hugs were done and he went away to change for the day.

Five minutes later he was back, bouncing happily around the family room, making plans for buying books (spy books of course) out of his school’s book club catalogue.

I am not a model mother in any way, but it left me pleased that the incident of the broken bowl compared favourably with my own childhood.

Broken bowls and plates were no strangers to me, and they were rewarded with a whack or two (or three) from my father with the full force of his (verbally expressed) anger behind it.

My father firmly believed that clumsiness and mistakes could be eradicated with strong doses of ‘discipline’ which to him meant exploding and doling out corporal punishment. Funnily enough it didn’t make my sibling or I less clumsy. It just made us hide our mistakes from him if we could.

My father didn’t learn his strict disciplinarian approach to life (you may wish to call it bullying) from nowhere. He came from a line of strict disciplinarians who used this trait to keep their families under control.

Yes, I am far from being a model mum now – but I am pleased that it is possible to break such a generational trait.

I can watch my son break a cereal bowl and instead of berating him, be genuinely proud of his hard-working nature that allows him help with the washing up without too many complaints.

And I can genuinely apologise when I have reacted out of my own irritation, and be proud to see him enjoying life instead of cowering in fear that another tongue-lashing is on its way.

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