On a recent evening, I allowed my children to bunk together after their sustained begging wore me down. My son told my daughter that he didn’t want me to come check on them after I said ‘goodnight’. “Why doesn’t he want me to check on you guys? I’ve already consented to your sleeping in your room together,” I asked my daughter. “Because you can be Mrs. Grumpypants,” my daughter said quoting her brother between giggles. Even though it was now 10 minutes past their bedtime, I too was forced to chuckle.
Sometimes kids are our best mirrors – even when we don’t like what we see and even if they offer up these insights when they should be asleep. So what if my ‘grumpyness’ was justifiable, it’s not a trait I am proud to show my children because when I give in to that persona, I am not in full control of my emotions. And, when parents can’t keep themselves in check, how can we help our children discipline their little emotional roller coasters?
So, on the night in question, I went back into the bedroom without Mrs. Grumpypants or a watch. I lowered my voice and told the two snuggled siblings to breathe deeply and relax into sleep as I resupplied them with tea. Finally, they fell asleep – about 20 minutes after their bedtime.
I vented about the situation to my glass of wine (my husband was out) as I am a bit of a sleep Nazi and thus the idea of my kids not getting enough sleep riled me. Once when Mrs. Grumpypants was front and center, I emailed both children’s teachers to tell them that the kids went to bed too late and that the teachers should not cut either kid any slack. This was not my proudest parent-teacher moment and it was foolish of me to hit ‘send’ on that email. Not my first mistake or my last, as both of these gifted teachers and everyone else knows.
And, I’m not proud of myself when I am parenting grumpily, impatiently or reflecting my kids’ mood(s) back to one or both of them because at those times, even if whatever emotion I am expressing is justified, if I am not in control, I am a bad parent. It is impossible to guide and mentor overwrought tykes who are trying to figure this life thing out when you’re acting like a child yourself.
Sure, all of us have emotions and there are times, especially after a long day, when it feels like a 20-pound weight has been lifted from your shoulders if you just vomit them forth on whoever is nearby. However, the blow back from this exercise is usually arduous and time consuming and thus, again even if the triggers are valid, not the best way to process feelings. As I tell my kids quite often, “you can feel whatever you want to feel – your emotions are your business. It’s how you act upon what you’re feeling that we have to work on.” Not every emotion experienced needs to be expressed, I tell them.
Am I ignoring my own advice?
As she drifted off to sleep behind her brother, my daughter reassured me, as she does every night, “I’ll come to you if I need you.” Of course you’ll come to me and not your father – have you tried to wake your father with anything other than a bullhorn? Kids.
Even if Mrs. Grumpypants shows up, they still want you there ‘just in case’. This is reassuring as no parent – especially me – is perfect. But, how can I take my own advice about emotions and emoting while being the authentic, emotional being I am and still maintain some authority over my little minions?
I am not always cool, calm and collected which I’m sure comes as a shock to you. But I try to reserve my expletive-filled-hissy fits for my husband and close friends because I believe that if kids see their parents completely out of control it scares them. On some level tykes know that they shouldn’t be in charge and grow insecure when they are.
But, sometimes, when it is just me and my deputy Chardonnay (Ms. Chardonnay’s hours don’t start until the evening – and not at all on those sad, sad days of late carpool) on duty a good loud, “NOW” can get those teeth brushed at warp speed. Seriously, kids, if you didn’t act like this request was a novelty I might even let the deputy have the evening off.
It’s just when I’m too ornery for too long when my frustration, anger, annoyance, desire to move to another state… are too obvious all afternoon and evening that my kids simply tune me out – and then I am a failure as a task master. Mothers are taskmasters a lot of the time. There is a lot to get done –homework, hygiene and dinner not to mention extracurricular activities – between school dismissal and a reasonable bedtime. Oh, how I wish my children were like those from television… those fantasy children who simply do what has to be done—and do it well — without nagging.
But my children, like me, are real, flawed and a blessing. They make me want to be a better me and while I will strive to correct them without growling, I will never banish Mrs. Grumpypants permanently because sometimes a growl just gets the mom job done.