You would probably assert that you love your kids more than life itself—that you’d throw yourself in front of a train for them. Yet, if you could bring yourself to be fully honest on this deeply personal topic, you might also admit that there are times when you just don’t like them very much. They’re misbehaving, they have a snotty attitude, they’re causing you trouble, not listening, or acting disrespectfully. They’re just a pain in the butt.
Go ahead. Fess up because you’re not the only one. Motherhood is not a state of constant bliss. No one ever said it would be. Fortunately, if you get tuned in to what’s happening, in time, you can use those unpleasant moments for your own benefit as well as for the benefit of your child.
Here are three things to consider when you feel like you birthed a monster.
1. Ask yourself what happened to you today that shifted your attitude, shortened your temper or severed your patience. Maybe you had a particularly difficult day: you’re overworked, tired or stressed, and it’s actually the monster in you that has reared its ugly head.
It’s so easy to blame your frustration on someone else, but if you’ve been heating up for some time, your child might merely be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I sometimes ask therapy clients to think of their emotional system as a big soup pot. Each ignored feeling adds another dipper full of soup to the pot until it comes dangerously close to spilling over the rim. Your soup might be simmering away even before your little one shoves his sister down the stairs or knocks over your favorite lamp on his rampage through the living room. The trick is to maintain the level of your soup (your feelings and stresses) relatively low down in the pot so that a bad behavior from your child doesn’t result in your pot boiling over. Believe me, your child picks up on your stress and can act out in imitation of you. Sometimes his misbehavior is a reaction to your sense of vulnerability and weakness. So put on a happy face for your own good and for his. Then take care of yourself.
– Give yourself a time out. Explain to your kids that you need to step away, take a breath and collect yourself.
– Schedule alone time: a bubble bath, your favorite magazine or an art project. Put a sign on the door that says, “Please do not disturb. Mom needs 30 minutes.”
– Take a refreshing walk and ask your spouse, a neighbor or the babysitter to watch the kids for a while.
– Plan some leisure or play time–even when you think you can’t spare a minute. It’s worth it to everyone in the family.
– Spend time in adult, non-work activities. You owe it to yourself to re-balance your life.
– Make a date with your spouse. A little romance is a great antidote to too much mommy time.
2. Ask your child what happened to her today to upset her mood and behavior. Maybe she was snubbed, humiliated or treated badly in school or on the playground. Sometimes kids hold in their feelings when they’re round others and then let it all out in the safety of their parents at home.
When my older daughter was young, she spent one evening being uncharacteristically rude and disrespectful to me. I was so taken aback that I flew to judgment and to punishment. I sent her to her room and grounded her for the weekend. Then I began to think. I hadn’t even found out what I had done to ignite her anger. So I went to her room and began to talk with her. Turns out she had been mistreated in school and took it out on me. She apologized to me and I comforted her. We celebrated by going to the movies together.
It would have been a lost opportunity to support my daughter if I had not realized that there was something underneath her bad behavior. So try to get inside the skin of your child.
– Talk with her before you jump to the wrong conclusion.
– Listen attentively and try to understand the situation from her perspective.
– Make it easy for your child to apologize.
– Show respect and sensitivity to her problems.
– Be quick to give comfort and support
– Discipline only after you fully understand her behavior.
3. Determine if there’s a real behavior problem that needs to be addressed. There’s a two-year-old at the clubhouse where I work out who has a meltdown every time he doesn’t get his way. If he can’t push the chair down the stairs, he throws a tantrum. Sadly, his mom occasionally looks the other way and allows him to do it just so she doesn’t have to deal with his screaming and crying. Clearly, he’s testing his boundaries and grooming his mom to cave in to his whims.
One of my clients says that whenever her kids begin to act out or misbehave on a continual basis, she and her spouse start talking about what they’re doing wrong. Do they spoil them too much, give them too much, avoid or neglect the small misbehaviors that give their kids the message that they can push further?
One way to keep your kids on track from the beginning is to set boundaries and then stick to them consistently. If you don’t teach them the rules and socially acceptable behavior, then who will? Talk with them before you jump to discipline, put things in perspective when they act out, and help them learn how their behavior is inappropriate, hurtful or disrespectful.
– Set boundaries early on–even with babies who are still crawling. The earlier your kids learn to stay within the guidelines, the fewer problems you have with them as they grow older.
– Don’t be afraid to say no. Authority is a reality in the world and you do them a disservice if you don’t help them learn to adhere to societal and cultural norms.
– Think discipline, not punishment. Discipline teaches by implementing the consequences you set with them in advance while punishment controls, takes them out of the loop and easily causes resentment and rebellion.
– Stop the bad behavior quickly. Pull over to the side of the road if siblings are arguing in the car; leave the restaurant if your child throws a tantrum; take away the toy if they’re misusing it.
– Talk with them about why they are getting the disciplinary action, so they connect the bad behavior with the consequences. Let them know that they are better than their misbehavior: next time you expect that she won’t kick her sister.
– Share the role of authority figure with your spouse so you don’t put yourself into the position of the friend while shoving your spouse under the bus as the bad guy.
Give yourself a pat on the back. Embrace yourself. Get support from a friend. Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs you’ll ever have. So enjoy the heck out of your kids on the good days. And on the bad days, remember: this too shall pass.