When I was a child, I was extremely sensitive to the moods of the adults in my life. I had to be: my parents were young, and while they raised me to the best of their abilities, there were times when their youth and immaturity trumped my emotional needs.
I quickly learned how to appease them, offer comfort when they needed it, say things that might improve their moods, and/or become invisible, depending on the situation. Because of that, I vowed to be the type of mom who wouldn’t burden my child with my emotional baggage.
So far I’ve done a pretty good job, but as my daughter Ayva gets older, I’m realizing that she’s not the perfect little baby doll that I brought home from the hospital almost six years ago. Smart as a whip with a vocabulary to match, Ayva didn’t just inherit my picky eating habits and love of books … lately I’ve been seeing my trademark moodiness in her as well.
The difference between her and me, though, is that she has the luxury of being moody (and sometimes mouthy) because she’s growing up with a parent who’s a lot more lenient than mine were.
But the other day, her moodiness struck a nerve and I lost it a bit. I was picking Ayva up from school and she did what most kindergarteners would do, she ran and hid behind a tree. This is pretty much our routine every day. She finally gave in to leaving, but she pulled her hand away when I reached to hold it as we’re walking towards the car. When I asked her to tell me what she learned about at school, she snapped, “Nothing!”
That was it. I’d had it.
I said, “You know Ayva, Mommy has feelings too. When I come to pick you up, you never say hello, you never give me a hug, and you act mean. That hurts my feelings, and I’m tired of it.”
Ayva was stunned. Normally I’d ignore her attitude until she was over the disappointment of leaving her friends and had warmed up to me again, but on that particular day, I just didn’t feel like it.
The day before, I surprised her with a trip to the lake to sit out and play games after school. That day, I had plans to stop for coffee and lemonade. I was tired of coming up with fun ideas of ways for us to spend quality time together and have her treat me like her servant. I am not her hired help. I am her mother.
After I gave Ayva my speech, she started crying. Instead of consoling her, I let her sit and think about the things that I said to her. We exited the car silently when we arrived home, and walked up the stairs to our apartment without saying a word. As she was changing out of her uniform, I went into her room to talk to her.
“Ayva, do you understand why Mommy was so upset?
“Because I made you feel sad.”
“Yes. I love you so much, and when you act like that towards me, it really makes my heart hurt.”
After a few moments of silence, we reached forward at the same time and gave each other a huge hug.
“I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you, too, Ayva.”
As moms, we’re famous for being overly aware and concerned about our children’s emotional wellbeing. When it comes to Ayva, I want her to feel safe and loved, and I go out of my way, every day of my life, to ensure that she does. But what about me? I’m human, too. I have a heart and it can break just like anyone else’s.
Just because I’m a mom doesn’t mean that I’m immune to mean words and rude actions, and just because I’m a mom doesn’t mean that I have to accept that type of behavior, either. Not even from my child who I love more than anything.
That day it became clear to me that if I didn’t start addressing her attitude and nipping it in the bud now, she’d be a nightmare as a teenager. Was I being melodramatic? Probably. Was I telling the truth? Definitely. Did I damage my 5-year-old by telling her she hurt my feelings? Doubtfully. Since then, there have been definite changes in the way that she acts towards me when I pick her up from school. She still begs to stay, but she doesn’t take her disappointment of having to leave out on me anymore. When it’s time to go, she takes my hand. When I ask her questions, she answers. We’re doing much better now.
It’s important for her to understand that her words and attitude have consequences and they affect the people around her. I don’t want to raise a child who doesn’t empathize or have compassion towards other people. I’m not doing her any favors by enabling her rude behavior, regardless of the fact that she’s only 5. I know there will be times when she’s not aware of the effect of her words or actions because she’s so young. That’s why I’m here, though. It’s my job as her mother to teach her that words can hurt, that her words can hurt.
Everyone has feelings. Even Mommies.