We’d had a long day. Everyone was tired. Hal had had a nap, but the rest of us were running on empty. Late in the afternoon, Daryl and Jane were performing their violas in front of an audience. Jane fell asleep on stage while the cellos sitting all around her played.
There was no time for dinner before we hurried to our last event: a children’s game night at church. So we loaded up on cookies and brownies at the reception after the concert and set out for the church. At the church, there would be more cookies plus chips. Just what every tired, over-stimulated child needs to keep their engine running.
As one of the other ladies introduced the activities for the night and I prepared the food around the corner, a scuffle broke out between my boys. After I resolved it, a new scuffle broke out with Jane, and I soon identified Daryl as the common denominator. I removed him from the area and tried to get him to calm down. He remained a problem for awhile, but eventually was able to drop his notion that everyone hated him and rejoin the group.
The evening was then relatively enjoyable, although stressful being one of three adults trying to wrangle 8-10 kids spread out in the church. At the end of the night, we realized that with the two friends Jane was having over to spend the night, we had seven people and space to transport only five.
As my husband ran the three teenagers home, I helped the other two ladies clean up while the boys hung out, waiting for our ride. Hal had gotten whiny and was easily upset. When one of his whining episodes turned into mildly belligerent back talk, I told him to go sit down in my Sunday School classroom. He refused. I repeated the instruction. He refused. I pointed to the door and said, “One.”
“No! No! I’m going!” And he did start walking away but slowly and while complaining. So I said, “Two.”
With that, he turned around, thrust his hands out to the side, and angrily declared, “I’M GOING!!!!”
My temper started to flare. My instinct was to yell or grab him by his arm and drag him to the room. Maybe even swat him and scold him angrily for speaking to me that way. Instead, I took a deep breath and pointed silently with a stern look on my face. He finally did as he was told.
One of the other women, her children grown, was cleaning nearby. After he left, the silence was palpable. I was feeling self-conscious and maybe a bit defensive about both my sons’ behavior that night. Looking for assurance, I suppose, I commented to her, “Well, I guess you can tell my boys are tired.”
Assurance was not to be had. She gave me a censorious look before saying, “Well, I think you were way too lenient. They shouldn’t ever talk to you like that. Even when they are tired. You are their mother and you deserve their respect. All the time. They are lucky that I’m not their mother. I would never let them speak to me like that.”
Ok, so she’s probably right. But just because they shouldn’t talk to me like that doesn’t mean my handling of the situation was too lenient. You have to apply the lessons when they are able to absorb them. And an angry, tired little boy can’t absorb a lesson about respect. At least, mine can’t. Especially if it comes at the hands of a tired mother reacting in kind. I didn’t trust myself to respond in an effective way so I went with silence and held my breath, hoping it would work. It did.
I’m the first to admit that I’m far, far from perfect. I avoid conflict like the plague. I’m not as consistent with my children as I know I need to be. I react to strong emotions with strong emotions of my own. I yell when I get frustrated.
But I get plenty of things right too. I apologize to them when I get out of line. I use those moments to help them see how we can each improve. I show them love every day. I fix healthy meals and encourage them to try new things. I make any moment I can find into a learning experience. We read together and discuss “big things.” I value their opinions. I give them chores and even though I slip sometimes, I usually hold them accountable for those chores.
And moments like this one – moments where my children are misbehaving in public, I feel like I’m on stage auditioning. I feel like everyone is watching me and taking notes on what I’m getting wrong. I feel hyper-aware of all the people around. I feel the strong need to “get it right” or everyone will think I’m a bad mom. Never mind that “getting it right” is probably different for every person watching.
That lady’s words really stung. The part of me full of self-doubt worried that she was right and I was handling my children all wrong. The defensive part of me wanted to tell her that I had met her grown children and my kids were indeed very lucky she wasn’t their mother. Another part wanted to ask her, since she knows my kids so well, exactly what I should have done to both defuse the situation and cause him to pay me proper respect. The wise part of me won out and I said nothing.
She’s right. Parenting is hard enough without people judging you while you do it. Other parents are bad but I actually think the old people who are 20 or 30…or more…years past their parenting days are worse. They’ve had decades to forget the nuances and their mistakes. Shoot, when I was trying to get the hang of breastfeeding with my first child, I begged my mom and mother-in-law for advice. Neither could remember a single useful thing. They apologized. “It’s been too long,” they said.
Yet, plenty in their generation and the one ahead of it think they know exactly how I should be handling my kids. Actually, they know exactly how they think my kids should behave. But I bet they can’t remember how to make that happen. And even if they could, I’m not them and these kids aren’t their kids, so I doubt it’d work. One shoe does not fit all.