There was a moving Tiktok video that came across my Facebook feed earlier this week of a young mother who was pleading for help. The beautiful but exacerbated woman had a scratch of blood dripping down her cheek. She was on the brink of crying but spent a few moments relaying the challenges of parenthood.
To summarize, her child had a meltdown in the middle of a public library. The humiliated mother carried her child kicking and screaming out to the car. The little one clawed at the mother’s facemask, tore it off and threw it at strangers. When I could see the overwhelming emotion in her eyes, I wanted to reach through the screen and hug her.
Most mothers at some point in time have come across a moment of total bewilderment. When exhaustion, frustration, and humiliation collide and they feel that their child’s behavior is the fruits of their parenting style. It’s been scientifically proven that how you raise a child has a direct correlation with how they handle events in their life, but there are exceptions to the rule. There is no such thing as a human being that doesn’t make mistakes. A lot of the time kids have no idea how to handle their emotions and they use their behavior to express themselves accordingly.
There have also been cases where children had loving families but (as anyone who enjoys crime shows will tell you), even amazing people can raise children who grow up to do terrible things. There have been some pretty horrible parents in the world who managed to raise children who grew up to be incredible people despite the negative effects that their parents had on them. The age old nature vs nurture argument still prevails and all we can do as parents is the very best that we can. Chances are if you’re begging others for parenting advice you’re already a pretty great parent… because you care.
I am not a child rearing expert. I have only had one child of my own, and several foster children that I helped raise due to the fact that my grandmother has been a foster mother almost all my life. When I give parenting advice, it’s important to keep all of this in mind. Anything that I have to share comes from my own personal experiences and every child requires something unique.
One sunny afternoon my sweet kind hearted, adorable three year old boy turned into a monster. The kind of monster that left me hiding in my bedroom closet. I stood there in the dark sobbing feeling exactly like that poor mother on Tiktok. My son had an outburst where I had told him not to do something and without warning, he began screaming at me. In his frustration to communicate he hit me, and kicked any part of my body that his little legs could reach. It was a behavior I had never seen in him before or ever would have tolerated.
While taking a moment to catch my breath, I returned to our living room to discover that my son pulled soot out of our fireplace and smeared it angerly all over our plush sofa and into the carpet. My living room looked like a crime scene within a matter of seconds. I was livid! He then caught me off guard when three of the most horrible words left his sweet little mouth.
“I HATE YOU!”
I sent him to his room for a much needed time out because I could feel anger surging through me like a wildfire. The flames were licking away at my resolve to hold onto my sanity and I struggled to push down the rage that was pulsing its way through my chest. Once in his room, I could hear him kicking the walls, tearing things apart, and throwing precious belongings that my husband and I had diligently saved to buy him. Meanwhile I went back into my bedroom closet to have yet another panic attack over my failures as a parent. While standing alone in the dark, I quickly dialed my mother’s phone number for reinforcements. As usual she gave me the most amazing pep-talk and some pretty fabulous advice.
“Who’s the adult in the house?” she asked firmly.
“Who’s more stubborn?”
“Go back out there, get creative and act like the adult that you are. Don’t let him see you cry, and don’t you dare let him win.”
I hung up the phone, washed my face so he would have no idea that he had gotten the best of me, and came up with a plan. Respect needed to be earned. My son knew better despite his age and this moment was the perfect time to set new boundaries. If he wanted to make messes, he could learn to clean them up. So I called him out of his room, got a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and put the boy to work.
We carpet shampooed, scrubbed the sofa, mopped the kitchen floor on our hands and knees, cleaned the bathroom, and tackled baseboards. He didn’t do it alone. I was right there with him guiding him on the art of washing dishes by hand and teaching him the proper way to use a broom and dustpan. While we worked I came up with a phrase that I now use all the time.
“It’s easier to choose kindness over being disrespectful, because when respect is lost… you can only earn it back when you work hard to deserve it.”
At three years old I shortened it to something like- “It’s easier to be good than to be bad, because being bad is hard work.”
By the time we were finished my boy was exhausted and my house had never looked better. Did he always do the job perfectly? No. He was three years old. Yet the job got done and I re-did what needed perfecting. Later that night he put his little arms around my neck and apologized for everything he put me through earlier that day. He couldn’t find the words to explain why he had done what he did but that didn’t matter anymore.
I learned very quickly that parenting using hard work as a way of reprimanding my son was far more effective (for us) than yelling. That’s not to say I’m perfect and never yell. Trust me! Yet as he grew I utilized things like, running laps up and down the driveway, hauling manure, pulling weeds from the garden, and other tasks that wouldn’t normally have been on his list of chores. The change I saw in his behavior was measurable.
At seven years old my son now notices when I’m feeling stressed or having a bad day. He will often choose to do extra chores on his own to show that he loves, appreciates, and respects me. He does this in the same manner as carefully choosing which wildflowers to pick for my surprise bouquets (my favorites of course). One week I had been feeling exceptionally overwhelmed from being sick for a long period of time. I had been struggling to keep up with my responsibilities of being a mom, balancing farm chores, and managing housework while my body was failing me. I laid down to take a nap and woke up to a spotless house.
My son had cleaned the living room. He pulled a chair over to the sink to wash dishes, vacuumed the floors, mopped, and even dusted underneath books and decorative knickknacks. I was overjoyed that he went above and beyond and I felt an overwhelming sense of pride (that he felt as well)! He’s not perfect (neither am I). He still has moments where he doesn’t feel like doing something and will complain or choose to be lazy.
He still gets mouthy from time to time so we have to revisit his chores list as needed. Yet over all, this method has helped him to see respect as something he has to earn rather than something that’s freely given to him. He is always kind to kids at school. He volunteers to help his teacher clean up after other students, and when he see’s trash laying in a parking lot or at a park… he will clean up after adults who should honestly know better.
As he grows it wont stay this easy. In fact, we will have to revisit this lesson many times as he moves from boyhood into being a teenager. I’m sure that I will also have to get more creative as time marches forward and the chemicals in his brain begins to change. However, up until this point… this technique has built character within my son that many kids his own age don’t have.
I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out in the future. In the meantime, I judge other mom’s far less. When I see a struggling mother on the brink of losing her mind, I make a point to tell her how incredible she is. I hope that you decide to do that too.