Often I read an article about common motherhood struggles and feel let down by what the article has to offer. The adage of “misery loves company” is true in that we all want to know that we are not alone in our struggles, but if all we have in our company is misery, where’s the hope? When we find ourselves in miserable company, don’t we want to know how to be joyful again? It seems there are a whole lot of people who validate the struggles of motherhood, but not as many offer practical strategies for navigating them.
I know our culture values authenticity today and rebuffs judgment and advice, but I think some of what we’re lacking is just good old fashion common sense. If we are just walking around being authentic and not willing to self-evaluate and receive advice then we’re just a messy society that values sitting in our own mess. Authenticity is valuable, but it needs to be coupled with reason and the desire to grow as a parent. Struggles are a part of life and are good for producing character and perseverance if we don’t just sit in the struggle, but handle them with reasonableness.
I can appreciate the candor of Scary Mommy from time to time, but one article I read recently left me with that incomplete feeling and thinking about the next step. The writer discussed the awkward moments of dealing with misbehavior in children, both her own and others. She gave a litany of situations that she would want to be made aware of if her kid was being, as she put it, an “asshole.” But that was it; just tell me when he’s being an a-hole. And I just wondered, what’s the point? Presumably her point was that she’d deal with her kid and the behavior, but punishing the behavior isn’t the end of the story. Kids are kids and are going to do a-hole things because they lack the development to make good decisions. But that doesn’t make them an a-hole. In most cases a child’s behavior doesn’t define them. They need to be taught appropriate behavior, but also know that they’re not bad when they make a bad decision.
So here’s how I would finish that article.
Let’s be proactive by setting boundaries and communicating expectations. It’s easy to be reactionary and punish a behavior, but if you establish a culture in your home of respect and kindness to point back to when correcting behavior, you are able to get to the heart of the issue and not just deal with the outward expression. What do you want the tone of your home to be? What are the values that are important to your family? Make decisions and communicate expectations based on those values.
It’s easy to yell over your shoulder to tell your child to stop arguing over a toy, but it takes much more of a sacrifice to stop a conversation with a friend to teach your child about having a kind and sharing attitude. Sharing is a difficult concept for all kids and it must be addressed over and over. Kids need to be taught that we share because we want to be selfless and generous people.
They also need to learn how to solve problems with siblings and friends. As a kindergarten teacher, I taught my students a problem solving script, giving them the words to use when disagreeing with a friend. Sharing and problem solving do not come naturally, but they are skills that children need to develop in life. Parents must diligently guide and train their kids in everyday situations to help foster these skills. Yelling at kids teaches nothing of value.
Modeling expected behavior communicates much louder than words. Anyone who has a toddler knows how demanding and whiney they can occasionally be. We talk a lot in our house about having a kind tone and using kind words. My daughter needs to know that when she is demanding, she is being selfish and impatient in her heart. My desire is to communicate that our family values a gentle and selfless heart. But if my tone is exasperated and short with my daughter, or my husband for that matter, I’m not backing up the words I’m speaking to her. I’m being hypocritical and in fact, teaching her that words don’t matter.
Of course, there’s a need for grace as well. We are all going to make mistakes, but if I’m quick to apologize and ask for forgiveness, I also model how to deal with my mistakes. I’m showing my child that making a bad decision can have consequences, but can be rectified. I’m demonstrating that our faults and bad decisions don’t define us and say that we’re bad.
Our kids are going to make poor decisions, we all do, but if we are diligent in graciously instructing them how to make good decisions when they are young, they will be able to make good choices on their own when they are away from us. This will build their confidence in their abilities and they will know that their mistakes do not define them. Your kid is not an a-hole, your kid just needs to be trained on how to make good decisions.
Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.