Bad behavior is like…childbirth?!

I had another post in progress, and then this thought struck me this morning as I was making the bed… it stopped me in my tracks, and it’s big, I think. This post came flying out of my keyboard at a hundred miles an hour, and I knew then that I had to share it right away, because it comes from the heart. I hope it resonates with you. 


Childbirth. We don’t look at it and become angry at our newly born child for causing us {incredible!} pain, or resent them for the hell they may have just put us through. Childbirth “is what it is,” and we accept it as a fact of life – basically, no matter how we get our babies out into this world, it HURTS!  This is our reality. We deal with it, make the best of it, and move on, while trying to navigate having a whole new {super dependent} person in our world. We let go of any blame, or anger, or resentment almost immediately and effortlessly, trust that we’ll heal with time, and focus more on loving this new being in our presence.


So why can’t we do the same when our child misbehaves? {Take a moment, and really let that sink in. What would it look like at your house if you viewed your child’s misbehavior from the same detached perspective?}


Why do we see our children’s misbehavior differently? For one, our expectations are different, and we perceive it as something we need to act on, to control, often with urgency, right.this.instant. And two, there is the hierarchy we strongly adhere to – our “us vs. them” mentality, where we assume we, as parents, should be the ones in charge, and they, as children, decidedly should not.


But let’s get real here. Kids – all kids – are going to be defiant from time to time. Yes? They aren’t always going to listen, and there will be times that we feel disrespected by their actions. So, when it DOES happen, what if we accepted it as a fact of life? “It is what it is. Not good, not bad, it just is.”


What if we honored this as part of the parenting experience? Part of the lessons we are supposed to learn as parents, and our kids are just giving us opportunity, after opportunity, after opportunity, to learn patience, practice empathy, and grow emotionally? Our kids are little, yes, but they also have a mind of their own, a soul of their own. They teach us just as much as we teach them, if not more. And they are not perfect, nor were they ever meant to be. If we accept this – really accept it – we can see our kids as they are, not as we wish them to be, and respond to them more calmly, and more rationally when they behave badly. Our emotional baggage? It can melt away. We can get to the bottom of why they are acting out, and what it is that they’re really needing from us. We can trust that we don’t always have to be the ones in charge. Wouldn’t it be nice to detach a bit?


Not that this is going to be easy. It’s probably going to be incredibly hard, in fact. When our patience is hanging by a thread, it’s soooooooooo tempting to cave in to our emotions, and react like it’s an emergency, or feel ENTITLED to be pissed off. “You’re not respecting me!!” we think. And then that quickly turns into, “You’re not going to be a respectable human being when you grow up!!” which simultaneously escalates into, “People will think you must have had a terrible mother!!!” Fear takes over our brains. And then the damn flashing emergency lights go off in our heads, and the real fireworks begin, and we become that mom – the mom we swore to ourselves as kids that we’d never become when the time came for us to be on the other side of the parenting equation.


As soon as the dust settles, we feel guilty for yelling, for screaming, for losing our cool. Like I did today, when I got in my two year old’s face and yelled, “SHUT UP!” Who does that to their child?! Apparently, this mother. {Sigh.} It was ugly, and scary, and I yelled loudly and angrily enough that it hurt my throat afterwards for a good ten minutes. My son just blinked at me with his big trusting eyesand I immediately wanted to take it back, and undo what had just happened. I felt horrible – it never feels good losing your shit, especially with your child, even if it feels completely justified as we’re going over the edge.


For what it’s worth, I’m not saying kids shouldn’t be given limits, or face the consequences of their bad choices. At all. Exactly HOW we choose to dole out the consequences is a topic for another site – we make the best choices for what feels right for us and our families, and there are a million and one approaches out there. Having said that, the universal truth is kids need boundaries, and need to know what our expectations are, and when they’ve crossed them. Research has proven this over and over again.


But, when we respond angrily, we often become hypocrites, not necessarily following the Golden Rule we try so desperately to instill in our children, teaching them to treat others they way they want to be treated. And kids? Well, we can tell them something over and over again, but their biggest predictor for behavior and attitudes is our own behavior.


With time and with practice, our brains will start to re-wire themselves, better enabling us to detach emotionally when our children misbehave. Dr. Wayne Dyer (love his work!) talked about the story of “Rule #6″ in one of his most popular books, The Power of Intention. Rule #6 is “Stop taking yourself so goddamn seriously!” And…it’s the only rule! He talks in depth about going from pissed to blessed, just by allowing ourselves to re-frame how we look at life’s challenging moments. With parenting, our kids are just giving us another opportunity to learn patience. Breathe… It is what it is… Just like childbirth is painful. A fact of life. Breathe…. ALL kids have difficult moments, and these moments are difficult for them too. See this differently. A fact of life. It is what it is.” And then we can talk ourselves off the ledge, remain present for our kids, practice patience, and model the love and respect we expect of them as we guide them in what is, and what isn’t, acceptable behavior. We can choose love over fear.


Here’s hoping. That’s the goal anyway. I know I’ll baby-step my way all along this journey, two steps forward, one step back. My emotions will probably get the better of me from time to time, and I will make mistakes, because I’m human. {So are you, mommy reader, so are you. Perfectly imperfect, and enough just as you are, flaws and all.}


When I do screw up, I’ll choose to see myself through my child’s loving eyes and forgive myself, let it go, and try to do better next time. This is really what I’m striving for, and what it’s really all about in the grand scheme of things. I know I can only love my child as much as I love myself. So forgiving myself for my mistakes? Well, it’s a HUGE part of loving me, as I am. If I’m going to love my child as he is, and not for who I wish him to be, I better figure out how to do that for myself too. He’ll learn to love himself, his romantic partners, and (someday) his children in the same way. And that, my friends, will be my biggest gift to him as his mother, and my greatest legacy. This is the way for me to be. How about you?

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