If you hope to get children one day, you should rehearse your conversations with them often. You can practice with a stone, they produce the same response.
Before I had kids, I swore to never shout at my kids. I visualized myself sitting them down for some little ‘adult’ talk about their undesirable behaviour. My speech would be smooth and chocolaty even. I was to be the calm and composed mother: the one who doesn’t lose her cool in the supermarket when they are screaming for candy and chocolate; then one who bends down to their kid’s eye level to avoid looking like an intimidating mammoth.
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Well, I’m the apple that fell right at the foot of the mommy tree. You see, my mom is amazing. She’s the queen bee of the womenfolk, industrious and protective. But she was a ‘shouter.’ You could hear her voice three villages away as she came home. Sometimes this would give you a couple of minutes to scamper and do a Flash Gordon touch up of the home before she got to the gate.
And then I got stones, sorry, kids.
Once the adorable two-toothed stage was over, they learnt to talk. And to keep talking and demand to be listened to. And to talk back. And to be (selectively) deaf.
I don’t remember when I started shouting. I just realized that I did. I’d be in one room and I’m screaming across the rooms. If my little girl was close to me, she’d tell me, “Mommy, I’m here. We said no shouting, remember?”
Lead, not control
Of course, I remembered. But remembering not to raise my voice when the staring down at a peaceful sleeping beauty and actually holding myself from doing it when I’ve repeated myself 97 times are two very different things.
I did an internal audit of the times I had felt the need to raise my voice. The audit report showed that I was desperate to control my children’s behaviour. I wanted them to think for themselves but not when it came to my instructions.
“Because I said so” became my automated answer. I wanted them to be independent but promptly lose that independence when I demanded. To do my bidding when I desired but rise up and be grown up when I demanded. I wanted puppets that had brains and pause buttons. But alas, I had children!
They were inquisitive and compulsive and curious. They wanted to be babies and little adults at the same time. They want to be grown enough up to choose their own outfits but babyish enough to be carried around. Our life still oscillates between, “I’ll feed myself!” and “Mommy carry me.”
I want to control how they play with each other, always asking them to be nice to each other. I’m a freaking army commander, controlling an army that is breathing brimstones at one point and hugging each other the next. What I hadn’t realized is how much my raising my voice had affected their behaviour. They were now raising their voice at each other!
I had not realized that I’m supposed to lead and nurture them, not control them. It is all the more frustrating because my girls are very strong-willed. They don’t take the first ‘no’ without a challenge. They don’t readily agree with mommy simply because, “I’m big, you’re small; I’m smart you’re dumb!”
But nothing sealed my ‘no raising voice mantra’ than seeing someone else raise her voice at them. Witnessing someone else be cruel to your kid is like watching someone kick a puppy. The puppy that keeps running to you with those begging, doll eyes, wimping so softly, looking up, wagging its tail, tilting its head to one side as if to ask, “I’m I a good boy?”
And then it receives a kick that sends it flying in the air.
I saw my baby coil like a scared puppy, confusion written all over her face. The confusion even deeper because I had allowed them to touch and play with the very things they were being admonished harshly not to ‘spoil’. The look on her face as she balanced tears and coiled back to sit on the floor gave me the fresh labour pains that cervical dystocia denied me.
My heart was bursting out of the chest. I walked over and gave her a hug and reassured her that all is well. Miss. T was more shocked than hurt. She’s like a baby kangaroo, this one. She just wanted to coil back into her mommy’s pouch and suck her thumb there for eternity.
The perpetrator (I couldn’t find a more befitting word), an older mother herself realized that she may have crossed a line and apologized, but the egg had already been cracked.
A rotten tomato by any other name …?
Later, as I seethed in anger and drowned in compassion for my kids, I was reminded of the times I may have unfairly raised my voice at them.
Why did this incident seem worse than the times I’ve done the same thing? I’m I allowed to ‘hurt’ my kids because they are MY kids? A rotten tomato by any other name smells just as awful.
While this does not apply to discipline which is absolutely necessary, I was made to look at my actions towards my kids through the same eyes I was seeing this incidence.
I have many times in the past seen parents be a little more unfair to their kids than they would another kid who’s not theirs. It’s like some actions seem forgivable, but not if it’s my baby who did it. As I strive to guide my children on the straight and narrow, I have been reminded that do not belong to me, really. I’m merely a steward.
And like Steve Harvey said, “Don’t shout at your kids, lean in and whisper. It’s scarier.”