My eldest daughter is a mirror image of myself. Watching her grow up is like watching my childhood on reruns.
And for some reason—maybe it’s because we really are so similar—she pushes my proverbial mom buttons with more frequency than my other two kids.
So I have always struggled to stay calm and rational when she makes choices that are—ahem—less than desirable.
And some days are harder to keep my anger towards her in check. Because she should know better. In fact, she does know better. My anger boils up to the surface faster because I expect greatness from her.
I was in her bedroom one afternoon to deposit a few of her things that she had left all over the house and I saw a candy wrapper on the floor. Slightly annoyed, I bent to pick it up. And my annoyance deepened when I saw another candy wrapper just under her bed.
And then I found the motherload: a stash of empty candy wrappers tucked under her pillow case.
My annoyance quickly turned to full blown anger.
I was livid.
We have had this conversation before. Several times before, in fact.
I have heard her promise she won’t eat candy in her room before.
We have explained the perils of being sneaky and how it negatively impacts how much we can trust her.
We have reminded her that she already gets a small dessert for both lunch and dinner so it’s unhealthy to eat more sugar.
We have discussed cavities.
We have even talked about mice and vermin.
But since all these angry conversations had clearly not sunk in, I was beyond mad at her. And I was getting angrier and angrier with each wrapper I dumped into the trash.
I stood in her room and bellowed her name in my scariest mom voice so we could have yet another angry conversation about trust and cavities and mice.
As I sat down on her bed to catch my breath and wait for her, I started to calm down a little. My breathing returned to normal and I wasn’t the panicky out-of-mind angry.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I was still mad. But I was a calmer mad.
Sitting there on her pink comforter, I looked around her room and thought of us snuggling in her bed last night to read our book about extraordinary women. She’s such an incredible reader, I thought.
And then I saw her stack of stationary and gel pens on her desk and I was reminded of what a kind friend she is to write notes to old neighbors.
My eyes shifted to her violin stand in the corner of her room and I smiled as I thought, what an incredible ear for music she has always had.
And even though I was still mad at the hidden candy wrappers, as these thoughts played out in my head, I became less mad at her.
I chose to focus on what she does that is right.
I purposefully remembered a few of the things that I really love and am proud of her for.
This revelation allowed me to approach the conversation about trust and cavities and mice with rational points rather than irrational angry bursts. I was able to focus on the behavior and her actions and not on her as a person.
I avoided the angry “How can I ever trust you again?” and the “How many times do I need to tell you?” and the “I can’t believe you didn’t follow the rules again?” comments.
And since I stayed clear of statements that would shut her down emotionally, I could really get through to her because I was able to explain why sneaking candy–and more importantly, sneaking in general—is never an okay choice.
I was able to say with great calmness, “I love you. And I want to trust you. But when you sneak things that you know you shouldn’t, that trust breaks down. We need to build it back up. It will take some time, but I know we can do it together.”
This time, without the intense anger, I think she really understood my concerns. We ended our talk by discussing what trust means to both of us…which is definitely a topic we will need to revisit and build upon as she becomes a teenager.
She still had a consequence for breaking the rules. But she was actually okay with it. She didn’t whine with a “But that’s not fair.” Our conversation ended with a hug rather than an eye roll.
When I took a second to remind myself of what I love about her at the exact moment I was so very angry with her, it saved us and our relationship a lot of hardship. We didn’t need to battle. We could approach a serious infraction with calmness and love.
So I urge you, take a moment to think of three things that you really love about each of your children.
And before you react to them in anger over spilled juice or not staying in their bed, let these three thoughts of love run through your mind.
You will approach the situation with a better perspective about what’s truly important.
My thoughts allowed me to focus on what really mattered…my daughter, our relationship, and my unwavering love for her.
And as with most things in life, love trumps anger every time.