A while back, fresh and fortified after a cleansing yoga class, which was then followed by a dreamy bike ride (when I didn’t, for once, write or edit potential prose in my head…I just rode and rode with no particular thoughts or story sequences clogging my mind) I found myself in the car with all four children. Feeling strong and competent, I suddenly had the courage to ask them straight out about the motherly things that I do or say that annoy them the most. I remained quiet throughout the discussion that followed after I posed this question, only asking for clarity a couple of times. I allowed the discussion to unfold without my direction or much interference. I did not argue with any of the points made. I did not get defensive (at least not out loud). I just listened and took it all in. It was not as painful an experience as I might have imagined. Here’s what my children said (in order of the most offensive thing I do or say to the least). I’ve added those quote(s) I could remember as I listened to the extremely informative, sometimes embarrassing dialogue that followed.
“As your mother, I bother you most….”
1. When you yell.
(“I can’t even think straight about what’s going on or what I did wrong if you are yelling at me.” And, “Most of the time even though you’re yelling I can’t even hear you anyway…because you are yelling at me from somewhere too far away in the house.”)
2. When you get into one of your frantic cleaning modes and you rush around barking out orders with a nasty “Pick up this!” or “Pick up that!”
(“Like we’re animals.”)
3. When you are making dinner, sometimes (no, a lot of the time) you seem mad and annoyed.
(Someone said, “She’s not a waitress. She doesn’t get paid to be smiley, and there ARE a lot of us to feed.”) I guess someone’s already feeling guilty about how this sounds to my ears.
4. When you repeat your scolding over and over again.
(“If I’ve done something wrong, I only need to be told about it once.” Another kid says, “Why do you have to talk about it like forever…for ten minutes straight?” Finally I hear this, “Yea, you keep driving your point into the ground and it kills me!”) Phew…that was a doozy.
5. When you get worked up over a drink spill.
(“It’s just a spill. So what if you just changed the tablecloth. That’s what a tablecloth is for!”)
6. When you say “Focus!” to me.
(“I AM focusing… just not on what you want me to focus on! When you say FOCUS so many times, it makes me mad and then I’m going to just keep focusing on doing the bad thing or ignoring you…to get back at you. Stop saying “focus.” ) Can you guess who made this comment? Clue: He has a little bit of a focus issue.
7. When you swear.
A universal complaint among my children. I’m quite embarrassed about this one.
8. When you always insist on making the beds in the morning…or when you don’t get to it until the afternoon and then you’re all crazy about it.
(“I don’t want to make the bed. I don’t want YOU to make the bed. Can’t we just leave all beds unmade?” Another child objects to this comment: “I DO want her to make my bed. Are you kidding? It’s great to get into a crisply made bed at night! Now she’ll never make our beds again.” Someone else pipes up, “Unless there’s company.”)
9. When you FREAK OUT because one of us gets hurt.
(“The slightest little bump and you go nuts…and you ask a million little questions about our health after it happens.” “Yea,” another kid adds, “I don’t need to be asked if I’m feeling dizzy when all I did was cut my leg slightly.”)
10. When you are so picky about how we help with the dishes or loading the dishwasher after dinner.
(“If you want help, you can’t be so demanding about how we do it.” “Also, that Household Skills 101 class you came up with earlier this summer was a dumb idea. That really annoyed me. I’m going to learn how to do all that stuff on my own.”)
I kept many comments and arguments to myself as I listened to this rather lengthy list of complaints. After about ten minutes in the car, we arrived at our destination (Target), the conversation dwindled down and I searched for a parking spot. Parking searches can get quite competitive and hazardous at this particular store location so I moved my vehicle with careful deliberation. When the car had finally come to a full stop (the children know to wait for a COMPLETE stop as there have been many instances when I’ve had to yell…I mean, raise my voice slightly….to keep someone from unbuckling the seat belt and opening the car door before I’m absolutely finished with my fancy vehicle maneuvering), my children began tumbling out of our car.
It usually takes Genevieve a little bit longer to complete her car seat buckle unshackling and to successfully disembark from an automobile. Just as she was poised to head out the right side back door of our Honda CRV, Charlie was readying to shut that door with one of his forceful slams. In an instant, I envisioned a most horrible scene, where heads would be bashed and hands would be crushed. While I nearly collapsed from my horrific vision, I was still able to yell at Charlie…loudly. Blessedly, I succeeded in getting his attention and though he was indeed midway through pushing the door shut, he stopped the slam in time. I yelled again…just in case…to make sure Charlie waited long enough for his three-year-old sister to ABSOLUTELY clear the path of the car door before he tried to slam it again. The second yell put Charlie over the edge. Perhaps the free-for-all “Mom Bash” from moments before, had left him loose at the mouth because he really let me have it with his own forceful, screaming scold, “Stop yelling, Mom, you skittish…you skittish…you skittish little bunny rabbit!” We all looked at each other, standing around in the parking lot, and started laughing. Max said, with a teenage cough-scoff, “That’s so true, Charlie. Mom IS a skittish little bunny.”
Ever since that enlightening car ride discussion, I’ve been mulling over what was revealed about my parenting style. Clearly, there is some need for improvement on my end. I have been working hard on the swearing habit. Two milk spills and one orange juice (very sticky!) have occurred since our “Car Talk,” and I’ve tried to handle those drippy moments with calm and grace. I’m working on my tendencies to yell and I have refrained from using the word “focus.” Instead, I’ve attempted to quietly and patiently wait until I have my eight-year-old’s full attention. Only then do I convey my order/instruction/request. (Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time to wait. A yell would be much quicker, but I just stand tall, biting my tongue and looking down at the inattentive child until eventually our eyes meet and I am assured that he is really listening.) It’s all still a work in progress. Some days I’m successful. Other days I am not. Like so many things for me, I frequently have to talk myself through it. With soothing tones, my inner voice tells me to breathe, to be patient, to remember that administering reprimands with calm love and in peaceful tones will be more helpful in my overall goal to shape and teach these beloved young people in my care. Not once have I commented (either during the car conversation or after it) on each child’s individual role and responsibility within a healthy mother/child dynamic. I was the one to boldly ask for an assessment and I got some rather frank answers. I’m bravely using the feedback from my children to do what I can to make some improvements.
Still, I have noticed a couple of changes in the inner workings of our household mechanism. Nothing was ever said but all of the children (even Gigi) have been bringing their dishes into the kitchen after dinner and sometimes, without asking, they’ve even attempted to load up the dishwasher…strategically (as I prefer) and with care. Now, since that critical day when all was revealed about my faults, two of the four children consistently make their own beds. I don’t know if the other non-makers have noticed or even if they care, but I continue to remain silent on the subject. I try to make up all the unmade beds that I find each day with care and kindness. Instead of only viewing it as a boring chore, I try to see it as a small gift from mother to child. And some days, there’s an astonishing development, I don’t make the beds at all.
I still have a long way to go on learning not to freak out about injury. I just can’t seem to catch myself from the free fall of hysteria when imminent injury or pain is about to be inflicted on one of my own. But luckily, my children now have a new catch phrase to gently shake me out of my fits of fear. “Mom,” they’ll say when something painful has happened to them and I’m dangerously close to going into overprotective mode, “I’m okay. Calm down. Don’t be a skittish little bunny rabbit!” Usually, when hearing this, I am able to giggle my way back to sanity.