It is said that the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. If that is the case, a generation of children will be talking to themselves in angry, loveless tones.
Here is an exercise for you. The next time you are at Disneyland/The Zoo/local aquarium/insert kid focused place here, sit on a bench for 10 minutes and just listen. Listen to the sea of parents as they interact with their children. What you hear won’t be pretty.
All around I see the same messages.
“Don’t worry – your 5pm glass of wine is just around the corner.” The message: Motherhood is about survival.
“Just wing it. We don’t know what we’re doing either.” The message: Motherhood has no playbook.
Who is the “just surviving” mom? Perhaps she is the mom who is frustrated with the child who can’t seem to occupy himself at Starbucks while she waits for her latte. She is texting on her phone and looks up only to scold him for being impatient.
Who is the “motherhood has no playbook” mom? Perhaps she is the mom who refuses to take advice or improve her craft. If you were new in the job at work, you would study, you would research, you would learn what it takes to ace that job. So shouldn’t we at least do the same with this job called parenting? Why is it ok to stop reading the parenting books?
How did we get here?
Let’s return to Disneyland where I took my son on Saturday. He napped at one point and I sat on the bench listening. What I heard was enough to break 1,000 hearts. It was a dad screaming at his child who wanted another handful of popcorn. A mom who yanked her child when she wouldn’t smile for a photo in the blazing hot sun. A child who was threatened for walking too slowly. It was anger and it was everywhere.
I am not going to pretend that taking a child to an amusement park isn’t hard work. It was scorching hot and it was crowded. There were long lines and my 3 year old didn’t want to wait in line. Did I yell at him? Did I get angry at him because he woke from that nap crying and didn’t recover until we muddled through an hour of crankiness? No. Because my job description includes not just showing up, but showing up with patience; to muster every last morsel of energy I have to make his day at Disneyland a fun one. And I understand how he feels. I don’t like lines or crazy crowds on a hot day, do you?
So the next time your little one throws a tantrum, think back to the last time you were pissed about something and shared it with your spouse or a friend. What if that complaint had been met not with an “Oh that sucks,” but instead, with a “Suck it up.” Or worse, a “shut up.” What then? Now think of your child. When she gets upset about something, look at her and remember that it doesn’t need to be big in your world for it to be big in hers.
Whether you are seven or 47, a little bit of empathy goes a long way – especially in parenting.