One of my favorite songs of all time is probably Company of Thieves, “Oscar Wilde.” I’m pretty hard on myself much of the time, so I relate to the song’s refrain, which reads:
We are all our own devil
We are all our own devil
And we make this world our hell
I am a most skilled, excellent self-criticizer. I don’t know that I make my life a living hell, but I’ve been brutal enough a few times to make it pretty gosh-darn terrible. Plenty of times, the self-criticism is mostly in my head. (I’m using that as an excuse…..Can you hear it? I’m like, “Hey, it’s not so bad to beat yourself up if no one else can hear your bones cracking!”)
This negative behavior has been an awful burden to carry around that I’ve been working to unload. One of the best things about having children, for me, has been their ability to help me broaden my own awareness about the things I haven’t paid enough attention to in the past. Having children makes me want to be a better person ALL THE TIME. I want to be positive and self-encouraging and a beam of sunshine so their lives are sprinkled with magic. But I noticed the most incredible thing recently:
My kids can tell when I’m faking. My kids can tell when I’m nutty and weird and grumpy. They can tell when I’m not seeing the forest for the trees: when I’m failing to live in the moment.
So, if I want to be a ray of sunshine, and teach my kids how to become their own rays of sunshine, I REALLY need to fix the biggest trouble I’ve been carrying around with me.
This problemo of mine became super visible most recently when I got upset with my son. I say with in italics like that instead of writing at my son because we BOTH became upset. He did something super lame-o, which I noticed later was not really lame-o at all— it was typical three-year-old behavior with minimal side-effects after we got through it. It was a string of events, all of which were totally silly: he took a really long time to get dressed, he put his underpants on backward, he refused to wear a short-sleeved shirt on a 90 degree day, he refused to wash his hands after pooping, and he told me he didn’t want to go to the playground after asking to for about thirty minutes.
He literally defied everything in our typical morning routine, just for shiz and giggles.
He launched an 8-minute sass-a-frass episode on me at about 8:30 a.m., before my cup of green tea or breakfast. So far as I could tell, none of this was happening because he was hungry or tired because we’d just woken up and he’d eaten breakfast thirty minutes earlier.
So I got terse. And I got louder than my normal inside-voice-volume.
I HATE MYSELF FOR GETTING LOUD.
I even want to hate myself a little for typing that in all caps, but what other way do I have to express my sincere seriousness for hating myself in a cyberspace such as this?
Anyways, I got louder and visibly frustrated and said, “Man, you are driving me nuts. Let’s just get this stuff done, get out of the house this morning, and get to the grocery store so we can go to the park!”
And he said, “Oww, Mommy. You’re hurting my ears with your voice. I don’t like that.”
“I don’t like it either!” I said, “So put on your clothes, wash your hands, and let’s go!”
This made him cry. Not like the frustrated, sassy tantrum cry. Like the “You just scared me” cry.
I wasn’t soft or gentle or perfect Mommy. That is the Mommy voice he is accustomed to. And he doesn’t want to do business with grouchy Mommy any more than I want to do business with grouchy LM1.
When he started to cry I felt like crap. I was like, “Ugh, Kim! Pull yourself together! Why aren’t you dominating this Mom thing as soon as you wake up, after you’ve gotten sleep and had a great weekend, etc, etc, etc.”
And then it kind of hit me. I’m too hard on him because I’m too hard on myself. I hit my default button and started to yell at myself inside my head. But in that moment I noticed that getting loud and then getting pissed was a huge sign that I am always way too hard on everyone. My expectation is somewhere through the roof and my kids can see that better than I can. Especially my three-year-old. Mr. Perceptibility.
It was a Monday morning, and we didn’t need to run out the door. Maybe we needed a shirtless hour after breakfast. Maybe we needed to wear underpants backward. Maybe we needed to wear a long-sleeved shirt in the AC for 10 minutes (or more) before we were just about ready to get out the door. The high standard I hold myself to turns me into a grump. It turns out that it turns my kids into grumps, too.
Why was I rushing to get out the door? Why was I insistent on having a pattern or a specific schedule after a long weekend away? Why was I such a royal pain in the rump? Turns out, I was driving him nuts. I was driving myself nuts. It was all about me. I’m hard on us. I get it. I need to tone it down.
Lots of times, when I look at the kids and wonder WTF is going on, I need to remember that I’m the adult. I’m the grown up. I set the tone. I help them to learn how to set a lovely tone, too.
So, I’m trying. I’m learning. I’m taking it one step at a time and looking to make improvements without the nasty backtalk in the back of my mind. I’m trying to keep it real and take it easy.
So, we had a naked dance party. We took it all off (not me, the kids) and we listened to Taylor Swift’s recommendation to “Shake It Off.”
What new parenting tricks have you learned today? SHARE!