Last week a curious thing happened. I was with my girls and my 7 year old observed an interaction between a mom and her young daughter (around 5 years old). My daughter mentioned how bad she felt for the little girl with the “mean mom”. The mom wasn’t yelling but she was speaking in a very harsh tone, face scowled, and the little girl started to tear up. That made me feel bad for the little girl and her mom but it also made me realize that was us in the not so distant past.
I wondered how many people had observed our interactions when we didn’t know we were being watched and pitied my daughter for having such a mean mom. I don’t know the circumstances of the situation. I don’t know if the “mean mom” was having a bad day, if this was a regular occurrence, or any other details. I’m not judging her or the situation it just made me reflect on my own parenting.
I realized how far I’ve come in the almost 8 years I’ve been a mom. The first couple of years were relatively easy. They were filled with capturing pictures of “firsts”, savoring adorable baby moments, tapping tiny curious fingers, saying “no!” gently but firmly, and always on the lookout to make sure objects weren’t inserted into nostrils or ears. As the years went on, the “no” became less gentle, the finger taps turned into pops on the backside and my patience wore thin repeating the same things over and over again. Before I knew it, I had become a “mean mommy”. I yelled often (to the point of becoming a chronic yeller), was exasperated easily, and disciplined regularly.
I’ll never forget the day that I realized I had to change. I called my daughter to come into my room and the look on her face tore my heart to shreds. She was confused and worried probably even a little scared. She’d done nothing wrong but fully expected to be chastised for something. I no longer remember exactly what I called her for but I do remember it wasn’t anything bad. My daughter had learned to fear me because of my tyrant ways. I didn’t know how, but I knew that I had to change. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up being afraid of me or end up driving her away from me.
It is better to bind your children to you by a feeling of respect and by gentleness than by fear. -Terence
I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. I talked to my mom and then read some books. At first, it was easy to put all of the blame on my daughter. She doesn’t listen, she’s too stubborn, she’s hardheaded, and on and on. Then I tried to make excuses for myself. I’ve tried everything, no matter what I do it just doesn’t work, it must be because mine and my husband’s parenting styles differ. Finally, I came to the realization that I needed to focus on solutions. So I took this approach-
- Remember she’s a kid!- I wasn’t doing a good job as an adult of controlling my emotions or reactions yet I expected my child to do what I wasn’t doing myself!
- Remember what it was like to be a kid- Always getting bossed around, told what to do, when, where and how to do it. Feeling like I didn’t have an opinion or a voice that mattered. Surely this isn’t everyone’s experience but I was putting my daughter in the same predicament I found myself in as a child.
- Think before you react- Try to find the most appropriate way to respond. Whether it be with a softer tone, better choice of words, or taking a moment before reacting at all. It’s often the little things throughout the day that make the difference and not just the sporadic times you lose your cool.
- Focus on being a more gentle parent- I decided that if I could “fix” myself things would fall into place. I had to make yelling the absolute last resort. I came up with things that I could do to avoid yelling at all costs. The list was filled with positive alternatives that I could do instead.
- Respect her as a person- I started treating her like the little person she was. Not someone that constantly needed to be told what to do, not like someone I was puppeteering, and certainly not like an inconvenience. I began to really listen to what she was saying, understand her point of view, respect that she had her own thoughts and feelings and that even though she was small that didn’t diminish her validity.
As I think back it makes me feel like I was not only a terrible mom but a terrible person! I realize that I didn’t have the tools that I have now. I’ve better equipped myself by taking care of my mental, emotional and spiritual health. My husband and I have worked hard to come together as a more balanced unit. Looking back I realized I spent so much time focusing on what I didn’t want to be as a parent that I hadn’t put much thought into what I did want to be. I had to put a plan in place to help me get there. I’m not there yet, I have my shortcomings and I still have a long way to go. My daughter’s reaction to the “mean mom” situation just helped me remember that even though I still have areas to improve upon I’ve made progress because seeing that uncomfortable situation felt foreign to her.
- One of my favorite books is How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. The concepts can be applied outside of parenting scenarios as they are just good principles. I love the way the book is written and encourage you to read this with your partner or other main caregivers.
- I love this 12-month approach to becoming a more gentle parent. Change is hard to encompass all at once but I often find that if I can implement it one thing at a time it’s easier to concentrate my efforts and attain lasting results.
- I encourage you to seek out your own “gentle parenting” resources for ideas and approaches. There are lots of great ways to incorporate this into your parenting whether you have a “style” or not.
If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably like one of these as well-
Nothing Wrong With Being Silly!-A post about not taking yourself so seriously.
Seeing Yourself Through Your Child’s Eyes– A post with an exercise I found on YouTube you might want to try with your own kids of any age!
What are your thoughts on this post? Can you relate? Have you ever been the “mean parent”? Are you or were you a chronic yeller? Did you have a different “mean parent” response? How did you kick your “mean” parenting habits to the curb? Do you have your own tips you can share that might help other parents? I’d love to hear your thoughts!