My kid, my darling sweet and cute third child, just lied to my face.
Then, she stuck her tongue out at me, stomped up the stairs, and slammed her door.
Now, before I could even reply or follow her up those stairs, I stopped and wondered why.
Why was she acting this way?
She could be acting this way because I’m a bad mom and I let her do and say whatever she wants.
But I know that’s not true.
I’m far from a perfect mom, but I am a loving mom who consistently reinforces our only two family rules. And I hold her to those rules because they are what keep her safe and help guide her to be the best version of herself.
Those rules are in place so my kids know what I expect of them.
And most of the time, my kids follow them.
And then other days, like today, my kid falls down the rabbit hole into crazy town.
But, like most moms when our kids act out, or act up or misbehave, we start to question everything.
And we can easily assume their outburst is somehow our fault.
We blame ourselves and our parenting skills.
She’s acting this way because I’m parenting wrong.
I’m just an awful mom who doesn’t know what I’m doing.
She’s rebelling because I’m too strict.
She’s testing all the limits because I’m not strict enough.
It’s enough to make any sane mom lose what’s left of her sanity.
And we probably all feel this way because most of society states this explicitly or implies it subtly to moms everywhere: Kids behavior is a direct reflection of the parenting.
But you know what? I call BS.
That is straight-up utter bologna.
The truth behind our kids’ behaviors
Parents have enormous influence over our children and their behavior.
We decide how they will treat us, what is acceptable, and what is not to be tolerated.
We set the tone and the pace and create the environment in our homes where they’ll either thrive or just try to survive.
And for better or worse, we’re their inner voice.
We are guiding them to be who they are, and shaping what they think, feel and believe about themselves and the world around them.
Our reactions to their behavior and our interactions with them directs how they will react and behave in the future.
And while there are definitely days when I could have momed better, I know I’m doing the very best I can…just as you are doing.
We’re present, emotionally and physically.
We’re there for them.
We hear them and see them and love them for who they are.
They are served vegetables at most meals and are read to even when we don’t feel like it and we clutch their little hands in a parking lot.
We tuck them in, we kiss the boo-boos, and we cheer them on from the sidelines.
So when our kids have a bad day, does all our awesomeness go away?
Are we suddenly bad moms because our kids just lost their minds and temporarily forgot everything we’ve ever taught them about treating people with kindness and respect?
No, we’re aren’t.
Our mom awesomeness is intact.
How we can react in a measured, more “perfect mom” way
As adults, we know we can only control our own actions, reactions and behaviors.
We can’t force our kids to sleep or eat or go to the bathroom on the toilet.
So a parent can not and should not be measured by their child’s reaction.
We can only be measured by our own reactions.
So back to the sassy pants who just broke both our family rules.
Her little meltdown doesn’t reflect what kind of mom I am.
But, how I react to her behavior does reflect what kind of mom I am.
My response says everything… about me.
And whether we’re in public or surrounded by extended family or its only her and me, someone is watching how I handle the situation.
There’s always an audience when you’re parenting…even if it’s just your child.
But it can be harder to deal with tough behaviors when we feel judged by the people watching us.
It’s extra hard when our sweet little angels push our angry mom buttons and tapdance on our last nerve.
And it’s even harder when we’re tired, frustrated and feel burnt out as we watch how “easy” it is for the “perfect moms” around us.
So how do we handle our kids and their less than stellar behavior in a way that leaves us with no regrets afterward?
There are some tricks to help us navigate these tough situations that also help us retain our awesomeness.
1. All behavior is communication
First, all behavior is communication.
My daughter was trying to tell me something but didn’t know it.
Maybe she’s frustrated. Or tired. Or overstimulated.
Maybe she’s mad. Or lonely or scared.
Just like Alexander in one of our favorite books, she was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
She’s not able to tell me exactly what’s going on, but her behavior made it clear: something’s up and I need to figure out what it is.
2. Stay calm
Second, we have to stay calm.
The crazier my kids get, the calmer I get.
Not sure how to stay calm? Try pushing the pause button.
I can escalate the situation and yell or I can deescalate the situation and come to it with calmness.
And since I’m the only adult in the relationship, it’s my job to choose to deescalate.
The seven-year-old definitely won’t do it.
She has no clue how to.
And at this point, she probably wouldn’t even if she could.
3. Their behavior isn’t a reflection of us
And third, we have to remember, when our kids act out it is not a reflection of me or my parenting skills.
She’s just having a bad day.
And we all have bad days, so it’s okay.
But it’s not okay to treat me the way she did.
Her behavior is a reflection of her mood, her emotions and her maturity.
My behavior is a reflection of my mood, my emotions and my level of maturity.
Handling the tough situation
So after I took a few deep breaths, I went upstairs and quietly opened her door. I sat on the edge of her bed.
I told her I loved her very much but she couldn’t treat me that way.
I reminded her of our family rules and pointed out how she must have forgotten them for a second.
And as I sat there, she started to tell me what was really going on. What was upsetting her.
And I listened. She crawled into my lap, the little girl who slammed the door and stuck her tongue out was long gone.
After she told me why she was upset, I empathized. It’s hard to be seven. I gave her the words she needed to say next time and I helped her label her emotions.
But I also oh so calmly reiterated she couldn’t treat me the way she did.
I told her we need to be honest all the time so we can believe each other all the time.
And in our family, we don’t stick out our tongues or slam doors. It’s two of the things we’ve banned to raise kind kids.
Instead, we use our words:
I need to be alone.
I could feel her nod against my chest and then she whispered, “I’m sorry Mama. I love you.”
And in that moment I knew.
Even though I’m not a perfect mom, I’m the perfect mom for this little girl.
I’m exactly what she needs.
Especially on her terrible, no good, horrible, very bad days.