Let’s establish the facts first. Yes, my daughter did tell me I’m the worst mother ever. She’s 5. She can be sassy, but she's a sweet kid overall. And no, I didn’t do anything about it. At least not right then and there. But if there’s one thing my kids know about me, and you should too, it’s that I may not react in the moment, but I always do eventually. Sometimes when my kiddo least expects it, I bring down the hammer. And in this case, bringing down the hammer was something much worse and much more effective than yelling at my kid or embarrassing her in public could do.
Here’s what happened.
My family joined another family at a beachside restaurant one Sunday afternoon. The kids played at the beach for hours before we all sat down together to have lunch. With any group of kids there are all sorts of dynamics to be expected. And so as my daughter and her buddy seated to her right were distracted from eating lunch by a game they had started, I asked her to take some time to eat lunch. I knew my kid is prone to hangry meltdowns and I wanted to avoid it.
Too late. My kiddo was already there and lashed at me. “You are the worst mother ever!” she said. She said it with such conviction it was almost funny. Except it wasn’t funny, and even a 5-year-old’s words can sting. I was hurt and embarrassed, but I didn’t let on.
The table grew silent with just an audible, “Woah!” coming from everyone’s mouths. All eyes were on me. What would I do? I knew my daughter’s eyes were on me, too. She wondered what would I do? She was pushing the boundaries. She was trying to get my attention.
I always try to remember I’m the mom, and it’s my job to act better than my children.
“Can someone pass the ketchup?” was all I said. Everyone else at the table sat stunned. The other mom in the group even said, “Aren’t you going to do anything? I’d smack my kids if they spoke to me like that.” I smiled at her and said, “Just wait.” Because that’s what I was doing, I was waiting.
A few minutes later, my daughter asked me to take her to the bathroom. She had probably forgotten her unkind words. Kids have short-term memory loss. They forget the mean things they say as soon as they say them. Sadly, moms don’t. So as my little one sat on the toilet doing her business, totally captive, I crouched down and got down to business.
Eye to eye, I said to her, “I just want you to know that I have never been spoken to so unkindly in my life. Not by anyone, ever. You hurt me very badly. Your words are very powerful.” I stood up and waited for her to finish. But she was stuck stewing in the one thing that every kid hates to feel: guilt.
She instantly began to cry. And as much as I wanted to comfort her, I wanted her to feel the ramifications of her words. A few minutes later she said, “I’m so sorry, Mommy. I didn’t mean it.”
For the rest of the day, she was delightful and lovely just like she usually is. And she still remembers that day and knows that she crossed a line, a line from which it’s hard to recover.
As a mom, it’s sometime hard not to react in the moment especially when we’re on the tail end of our kid’s bad moods and emotional outbursts. But I always try to remember I’m the mom, and it’s my job to act better than my children. Screaming at them never helps and sometimes reacting right then and there isn’t that effective.
So the next time you see a mom not reacting to her children’s bad behavior, don’t assume she’s a wuss mom or a pushover. She’s probably just waiting until her kid needs to go to the bathroom. That’s when she’ll lay down the hammer.