**This post originally appeared on my first blog, The Cultivated Mother**
When I wouldn’t give her a popsicle, even after lots of whining, my 4-year-old started crying and rushed to her room, slamming the door behind her. Then, I heard her open it back up, take a step out into the hall, and say, “I hate you, Mom! You’re stupid! I hate my stupid Mom! I don’t love my stupid, stupid Mom anymore!!”
Part of me couldn’t help but laugh (quietly in the kitchen, so she didn’t hear or see me) at the drama of it all. But part of me had my feelings hurt a little bit. I don’t think hearing your child say, “I hate you” will ever feel okay.
Each of my daughters has been challenging to parent in their own way. I never feel as though I have all the right answers, and often wonder if I’m doing a good job. There are so many ideas out there about how to “discipline” children and yet I realize that I haven’t put one of my daughters in time-out in years (they’re 8 and 6, respectively). I don’t spank (research says you shouldn’t either). And more and more often, I avoid dealing out unrelated punishments like loss of screen time, or treats before bed. So what do I do?
Well, mostly, my parenting motto has simply been to love them through it. (And let natural consequences handle things for me.)
When my daughter was 4, and even now, she will often run to her room when she’s upset. And if anyone tries to go in, she yells at them and says she needs alone time. Even after she yelled those terrible things at me that day, I didn’t run back there to spank her, or yell at her, or get onto her about her bad behavior. I let her be.
On that particular instance, after about 10 minutes of screaming and crying, her door opened again and I prepared myself for the next assault. But to my surprise, she said, “I’m sorry for whining and yelling, Mom! I’m so, so, so sorry!” And she closed the door again. When it sounded like she had quit crying, I quietly walked back to her room and gently knocked on the door.
Sure, my daughters will probably have more outbursts in the near future, but when they’re having those overwhelming emotions – anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment – I want them to learn these things:
- That the things they say and do will have natural consequences. People will not want to be around them if they are being mean. They will hurt people’s feelings (and I admit to them that they hurt mine). Once they have calmed down, they almost always feel bad about these things, and apologize.
- That the feelings will pass. Ignoring those feelings, covering them up, or demanding that they go away (don’t we, as parents, often demand this from our kids?) won’t work very well. It’s okay to feel them and to give yourself some space to process them. It’s not our feelings, but our behaviors that we have the most control over.
- That they should not be afraid of me. I am not there to punish, shame, belittle, or judge them. If they’re not afraid of my response, I hope they’ll be more likely to come to me when they are having trouble navigating a tough situation. I will always be on their side.
- That no matter what, I will love them. We are human, and humans make mistakes. Their behavior has no effect on their worth, or their right to be loved. I may not stick around if they want to yell at me, but I’ll be waiting with a hug when they’re ready to make amends.
When I fight back against my kids, when I try to prove that I know best (and that, by God, they’ll do what I say because I’m bigger than them), it’s usually more difficult and more exhausting for us to come back together, reconnect, and find peace again.
But when I give them some space – when I stop trying to control – and I love them through it, the situation diffuses more easily. We reconnect, we hug, we tell each other we love each other, and our day resumes. Our goal as parents should not be to control our children’s behavior, because we won’t always be around to do that for them. Our goal should be to help them learn to control themselves. And most importantly, to learn that their parents will always be a place from which to draw strength, wisdom, and love.