Well, with my younger one, Krystof (4 1/2), it’s easy. He falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow each night. But with my older one, Tomas (6 1/2), not so much. He’d like to stay up all night every night playing.
I get where he’s coming from, because that’s how I feel most nights, too. And even though he doesn’t like it much, every evening we manage to reach an agreement, and Tomas goes to bed. Once in awhile, though, he tries to rebel, or at least make it very clear to me that he has no intention of agreeing tonight. He wants things his way!
And that happened to be one of those nights. Tomas didn’t want to hear about any sort of agreement:
“Mom, I don’t want to go to bed! I want to stay up and play!” he protested at bedtime.
“But I have a Skype call scheduled tonight, and I need quiet. I really need you both in bed at 7:30.”
We went back and forth for another minute or two.
That’s when Tomas threw in my face the most hurtful words a child can say:
“You’re a terrible mommy! Really terrible!”
My blood was boiling, but I kept my calm. Sure, I’m a terrible mom, I thought. I’m terrible because I want my child to go to sleep?! I don’t think so.
I acted calm on the outside. He’s my child, and I don’t need to raise my voice, I thought. But… at that moment, the calm was only skin-deep. And kids can always sense that...
“I know you’re upset, Tomas. You want to play, and I want you to go to bed. I know you’d like to stay up like me and do your own thing,” I said, trying to pinpoint what he was upset about and acknowledge his feelings. “But this call is really important for me. So what do you think, sweetie?”
I was still hoping to handle the situation with grace. But the way the stars were lining up that night, instead I was in store for a red face. The longer I listened to him heap insults on me, the madder I got.
“You’re still a terrible mom! Terrible!” he yelled, turning away from me.
And that’s when my patience ran out. I came to my own defense: “Excuse me for interrupting you, but I know that I’m a GREAT mom!”
“A really great mom! And do you know why?” I said, pausing to take a breath. I could feel the emotions rising up in me, and then I just threw it all out there:
“I’m a great mom because whenever you hurt yourself, I’m here to kiss it better. Because I wipe your tears away when you cry. Because I listen when something’s upsetting you, and I talk through it with you. Because I ask what you think about things so I know how you feel and what we can do better together. Because I make your lunch every day for school!
“Because I play with you, I play your made-up computer games, build railroad tracks for hours, get on your train as a passenger, dig roads with an excavator, build with LEGO, jump off skyscrapers (a.k.a. the bunkbed) with a parachute, and eat PlayDoh cakes decorated with flowers.
Because I check on you at night while you sleep. And I stroke your hair just because I love you so much.
“Because I cook, clean and iron for you. Because I’m there in the auditorium for every school event. I’m always the first parent there! Because I love you so incredibly much, even when you’re mad at me or I’m mad at you.
“Because even if I’m sick or my back hurts, I still bend over and give you a kiss. I’m a great – no, a fantastic mom!”
Tomas listened quietly the whole time, and at the end said, “Yes, that’s all true. You really do all those things.”
He stood there for a minute. Then he smiled and said, “Good night, mommy!” and went into his room.
He came back 10 minutes later. Carrying a paper crown for a princess.
He said I should put it on, because with the crown on my head, I’m not a terrible mom (his way of saying sorry). :)
And then the tears started to flow. Overwhelmed with emotion, I examined my crown. I was speechless, touched, filled with joy! The crown also featured three drawings as decoration. Tomas had really worked hard on it.
We kissed each other good night, and I got on my Skype call. He went to bed on his own. So we got there in the end. But my thoughts kept going back over it...
At the beginning of the argument, when I was trying to work out how he felt, why he was attacking me… in reality my calm outward demeanor hid something very different. I felt like I was apologizing to him for something. For myself. But there was really nothing to apologize for.
I was like a little girl trying to soothe a baby, but actually letting them walk all over me.
And I saw that as soon as I stood up for myself, Tomas calmed down, and it was like I earned his respect.
Yet I never would have thought to defend MYSELF against my children!
Every mama can imagine the wrench of hearing from her beloved child: “I don’t like you!” Or worse: “I hate you.” The first reaction is shock, of course. Maybe pain – how could they say such a thing?
But a second later we’re trying to understand them. Soothe them. Not to admit that they might have hurt us. We try to understand their feelings and tell ourselves – oh, they’re just little, they didn’t really mean it.
Okay, but who thinks about our feelings?
If he had said: “Mom, I’m mad because I have to go to bed,” I wouldn’t feel the need to defend myself. I would have said that I understood he didn’t want to go to bed, that he would rather play, and I would have been willing to discuss it with him.
But he attacked me as a mother; he attacked my worth.
Even if he may not have meant it that way.
Even if he probably just said it because right then he couldn’t find better words to express his anger.
(How many adults struggle with the same thing!)
But still, he did it. He stirred up long-buried feelings.
Whether or not I’m good enough. Good enough for people to accept me. Good enough to be loved.
So that evening was a test of everything I’ve learned about relationships and about myself. :) If I hadn’t stood up for myself, I wouldn’t have been acting as a partner for myself. If I don’t support myself, how can I support others?
And I know I’m a great mom for my kids. (As are you!) ;)
And you know what I hope the most?
That Tomas will remember that evening. That he’ll be able to defend himself, too, when someone starts “badmouthing” him. And that he’ll learn to love himself, the way I love myself.
So what about you, mom and dad, would you like to have this at your house, too? To trust yourself more and build up respect that will hold even when much uglier words would otherwise be flying around? Our five-week course has helped thousands of other parents find that respect and trust. It can help resolve other things parents worry about, too – have a look, and see if you can find yours there.