I am officially a full-blown “boy mom.” I got an email from Charlie’s pre-K teacher. He hit another boy. My first reaction was hit him back, but of course you can be arrested for that now. I suppressed that urge, because I don’t look good in orange. My next impulse was to lock him in his room for a week, but that’s probably illegal too. No TV for the rest of his life? That’s a punishment for me. My girls were not perfect pre-schoolers, but this was my first time dealing with any sort of misbehavior involving another child. I wanted to scream at him, but at the same time, I wanted to hold him and protect him from himself. Motherhood is a journey of crazy, mixed emotions.
I recently counseled a friend on a little issue her child was having, I can say “little” because it wasn’t happening to one of my kids. In that conversation, I was the voice of reason, defending the actions of small kids and putting things in perspective for her. Why couldn’t I think the same way about Charlie? Maybe I could. Rather than overreact because of anger, guilt at raising a child who would hit, and even, embarrassingly, embarrassment, I considered the advice I would pass on if it were someone else’s child.
It went something like this. Yes, you have to take this very seriously when you speak with him. Yes, Charlie needs to know that was wrong, and he can never do it again. No, he will not become the school bully because of one incident. No, the other child will not hate him, nor will his mother. This does not mean he is a bad kid, just because he did a bad thing.
I took some deep breaths, sat Charlie down and pretended he was someone else’s child. He told me what happened, and started crying immediately. He said he apologized to his friend, they were still friends and he wouldn’t do it again. He seemed so little and sweet when I suspended my feeling of being responsible for all his words and actions. Charlie is his own little person, he will make many mistakes, and I hope I can help him learn from them. I spoke with the other mom, who was amazing and made me feel so much better. I went from feeling like I was going to be sick, to simply hoping it won’t happen again, just by pretending he had another mom.
The connectedness between mother and child is wonderfully intense, but it can get in the way of rational thinking and common sense. It works both ways. It can make us feel unreasonably accountable for our children’s mistakes. And, it sometimes puts on us blinders, so we can’t see our own child’s faults and shortcomings.
When you find yourself getting heated over an issue or a problem with your child, whether he or she is on the giving or receiving end, take a step back. What is the advice you would give to a friend? What would be your approach if you were given the task to discipline someone else’s child? There are moments, dinnertime and homework time specifically, when I wish someone else would parent my kids. And there are other times, times when calmer heads should prevail, when someone else could do a better job. Since we don’t have substitute parents on call, the next best thing is to take a deep breath, close your eyes, and pretend your child is someone else’s. I promise this will calm you down, allow you to think clearly and produce better results.