Thursday, July 20, 2006

Teaching Moments

Yikes, it's been a long time since the last post! Sorry, dear readers, whoever you are. Both of you.

I've been thinking about these opportunities that come up to teach our children about life. For instance: yesterday BabyGirl kicked me, hard. Now, this has been something we've worked on, explaining that kicking people hurts them, makes them sad, can make them cry and so forth. When she kicked me, I said, OW and rubbed my arm, saying, that hurts, now I'm sad, blah blah. She apologised sweetly and kissed my owie. Awwww...

Then she kicked me again. Harder. In the boob instead of the arm, this time. I was pissed OFF. So I yelled, OW, THAT REALLY HURT! as I hopped off the sofa and stalked irritably into the next room, muttering stuff like jeez that's mean... So the child followed me into the kitchen and said, mommy up? And I'm saying, no, I'm not picking you up--you just kicked me and now I'm mad. (Keep in mind that the child wasn't apologetic or sad at this point.)

The censorious, Perfect-Mom-Wannabe part of my brain was saying, oh, I should be speaking calmly and saying, honey that was very hurtful, etc but the Pissed Off Mom was In Charge and wasn't having any of it.

But there's more: the child got her little footstool out of the bathroom and shoved it across the floor (something I hate because it makes this awful scraping sound, plus I don't always see the stool until I've almost fallen over it) while I was saying, leave it in the bathroom... and she fell. And cried. I was looking at her thinking, oh God, now what? And then I saw the blood.

She'd bitten her tongue. Perfect-Mom-Wannabe was on the job, saying, You should have known this would happen. Luckily, Good Enough Mom was also on the job, picking up the child and comforting her as she cried and got bloody drool all over my shirt. I at least remembered to get out a dark-colored dishtowel to mop up the blood, so that she didn't freak at sight of the red stain on the cloth (and my grey shirt just looked darker).

And here's the Teaching Moment: as she cried she said, I'm sorry mommy in a really heart-breaking voice and I managed to say, you didn't fall because you kicked me, that was just an accident and now you're ok.

So I'm hoping that BabyGirl learned that the universe doesn't punish you for testing limits (which the second kick surely was) and that accidents happen. I'm hoping that I learned to be the Good Enough Mom, who at least tried to be emotionally honest with the child and show her that kicking people makes them really mad sometimes.

I'm thoroughly sick of parenting advice that says, don't let your child see how you really feel.* It's honest to let a kid see that they've made you really mad and to step away for a moment to collect yourself. You're modeling how adults are supposed to act, which is a key part of parenting. Trying to demonstrate to your kid that you never get mad or that you're perfect is, first, doomed to fail and, second, setting them up to fail in their attempts to act like an adult according to their most influential role model.

*I know that kids are scared when their parents are acting crazy, so attempting emotional honesty is a good choice on the part of someone who's in a rage (not that they're gonna be in control of their behavior, which is the whole point here) or is terrified (ditto). But I've already learned the lesson about acting calm when you're terrified until the situation is under control (say, when the ER doc says your kid's ok). And I'm evolved enough as a human being to recognise rage when it's on my emotional horizon and to (mostly) get a grip before it overtakes me.

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