How To Recover from a (Relatively Minor) Train Wreck

I took the family on a hike the other weekend. It didn’t turn out exactly the way I envisioned. I learned a few lessons which I hope will serve you.

The Hike

The vibe in our family was frostier than the snow around us.

This isn’t how it was supposed to turn out. This was supposed to be a wonderful, wholesome outing as an entire family.

Kids on an adventure!


Off their screens!

Smiles and togetherness!

Yet, when we arrived at this magical place, which was an actual train wreck, our family outing felt like an even bigger train wreck. The only smile within a hundred yards belonged to our dog Oki. Everyone was quiet and miserable.

The train wreck hike is a 25-minute stroll through a Pacific Northwest forest. In winter, it’s a beautiful, snowy wonderland straight out of a movie. Close to the train wreck site is a suspension bridge over the Cheakamus River. The reward is being able to explore the train wreck site. You can walk in the train cars. You can climb on top. Artists “tag” them and it looks incredible.

When we began the hike, our three boys (aged 8-13) began to wrestle, fight, and generally make a ton of noise. There was a kick in the back and an injured eight-year-old on the ground. Other people on the hike were within earshot. Our boys were running off exploring the forest, off the trail, and out of sight. There a non-zero risk of getting lost.

Their behaviour triggered my wife. She implemented a ‘no wrestling rule. The boys initially did not listen, which triggered her even more. And when my wife triggered, I triggered and went below the line.

From that low place, I raised my voice. I threatened.

The intention was to get the boys to listen and to behave, but we were all below the line in “fight or flight” mode.

I got the result I wanted: quiet children respectful of other’s ears, obeying mom’s rules. The price paid? No fun. No smiles. Damaged relationships.

I believe in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu saying:

- Carlos Gracie, Sr.

I’m telling you in hopes of inspiring you to not beat yourself up when you make mistakes. To not blame others. Instead, to take responsibility. To reflect on what went wrong in service of learning, growth, and being the best version of yourself.

The Failures

  • I didn’t notice that the boys needed to wrestle and get their energy out

  • I didn’t set clear expectations of behaviour, for example: don’t wrestle to hurt, be respectful of other people’s ears, etc

  • I triggered and went “below the line”. I started blaming others - my wife - for being triggered herself by the boys’ behaviour, thus triggering me

  • I wasn’t on the same page as my wife around the rules on wrestling in public

  • I misread how the surprise would land for one of our boys. He doesn’t do well with surprises. When we arrived at the suspension bridge, it triggered anxiety for him. I ended up forcing him to cross it, adding further to the misery

The Lessons

  • I need to take full responsibility and not blame others for myself getting triggered below the line

  • Boys need to wrestle. Give them space to do this

  • I need to set clear expectations ahead of time in the future. I need to prepare. I need to be on the same page with my wife

  • I need to support my wife more. I need to better appreciate how COVID has put different strains on moms. Especially moms of three young boys

  • I need to have more empathy for my boys. I knew one of them doesn’t do well with surprises. I could have honoured this by telling all of them ahead of time, or just telling him and keeping it “our secret”

I need to take the time to prepare and not take the easy route. I’m reminded of Jerzy Gregorek’s quote:

Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.

This was not a win as a father and husband. But I believe the quicker we can learn from our mistakes and adjust, the better. We can lead ourselves and others best when we:

  • Adopt a responsible mindset

  • Stop protecting our ego

  • Reflect and learn

How can you effectively respond when things go wrong?

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