There are days when I feel like an utter failure as a mom. When my youngest son is storming around our home, my youngest daughter is telling me I’m a “child,” and my oldest son leaves without picking up after himself. When they treat me with disrespect and dishonor. When it all seems to come crashing in at once . . . I feel like I could be doing a much better job than I am.
Don’t get me wrong – I know that I’m blessed. None of the kids have done drugs, been arrested or have had significant emotional or mental disorders.
Our family has challenges we have to face – like all families. But, those issues seem to affect only the people in our family. In other words, the trouble doesn’t seem to leak out into the school system, the legal system and the neighborhood.
But, trapped inside with these wonderful monsters gives me a stilted view of who they are and how they’re growing up.
I know this happens to other parents too – we get tunnel vision about who are children are and who they are becoming. But, as a single mom we don’t have other people to bounce our concerns off of, so suddenly they may look more like a mountain than a molehill.
My friends complain about the same things. Their daughters are throwing tantrums at home, having fights with their boyfriends in the driveway so all the neighbors can hear or someone just wrecked the family car.
One son started smoking Hookah, another bought a motorcycle and a third wants to move out before finishing high school because his mom won’t let his girlfriend sleep over in his room.
Meet any of these children in public and they appear to be respectful, honorable and sweet.
Of course they are – they are both the son who’s riding a motorcycle despite his mother’s fear and the young man who bakes a homeless man a pizza every Friday.
She is the daughter who throws frequent tantrums at home but serves in the coffee bar at church every Sunday.
He is the young man who start smoking Hookah, despite his history of asthma, but works hard for every employer.
They are complicated, complex and not-yet-complete young people who are finding their way in the world. Which side of their personality bothers you and which do you overlook hoping they’ll outgrow these idiosyncratic behaviors that drive you up one wall and down another?
I’m lucky enough to have two children in their mid-twenties and can watch the results of years of blood, sweat and many tears. The other two are still working their way through this early journey and I’m privy to their struggles.
Here is what I’ve discovered over the years that has help me maintain a relationship with my children and improved my relationships with my friends.
ONE: Stop Sweating the Small Stuff
If it doesn’t completely alter my relationship with the other person – no matter what “IT” is – then I don’t sweat it. I want my children to grow up respectful of others, honoring their parents and spouse and following Jesus. If what they’re doing doesn’t change those three things, then I ride it out and PRAY.
I don’t like every decision my sons and daughters have made – but if they aren’t harmful to myself, them self or their future self, then I stop worrying.
TWO: You Can NOT Control Everything
I’m a control freak. It’s one of the things that I had to work hard on in my marriage. I found by starting my own business I could exert control in the right place and leave it at the door when my ex-husband came home.
Learning that I couldn’t control my children’s behavior taught me a LOT about how to be the best person I could be. If I was the best that I could be, then I could ask that of them without looking or sounding hypocritical. If I couldn’t control my own anger, it would be hypocritical to demand they control theirs.
When I stopped trying to control them and started having a relationship with them, they began wanting to please me more – and I got what I wanted in the first place, but just in a healthier way.
THREE: Positive Reinforcement Goes Farther Than Negative
This idea is predicated on the idea that the kids want to please you in the first place. When you are in any relationship, the other person is concerned with your feelings and your emotions, and the same is true with your children.
It’s the old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” Make the environment pleasant for your children and likely they will make it pleasant for you. BUT, this is dependent upon your relationship with them. I’m not from the school of people who believe we should do everything for our children, or give them everything they want – but I do believe we should give them the same respect we demand from them.
FOUR: Watch the Words You Use . . . and Don’t Use
Do you have a word or phrase that automatically raises the hair on the back of your neck? It makes you angry before you even know what the other person is thinking. If you have something like that, it’s likely your child does too.
My youngest daughter hates it when I tell her to take a timeout during an argument. She wants to keep plowing ahead and digging a deeper hole for herself. We’ve learned I can say that I need a few minutes to gather my thoughts, giving her time to settle down and see the situation a bit more clearly.
My youngest son used to hate it anytime I made a suggestion he didn’t ask for. I learned to ask if I could make a suggestion – and he learned to wait until he was ready to hear it.
Watching what you say and how you say it is part of the respect we want our children to show us – they learn best what they SEE us do – and not what we TELL them to do.
FIVE: Rephrase the Negative to a Positive
Try rephrasing what you say from a negative to a positive. Each of us hears way too many negative things in our lives. From our teachers to our bosses – much of the reinforcement we get is negative, intended to shape our behavior.
Give your children something different. Instead of saying – “no running!” try saying “Walk please!” Instead of saying “Stop screaming at me!” try saying, “I’ll listen when you can use your indoor voice.” Instead of saying, “No dessert!” try saying, “I love dessert too! We just don’t get it every night.”
These are just five of the things that have helped me. It’s a journey – and sometimes the journey is more of a challenge than we’d like it to be.