If I had to choose one word that summarized my sentiments toward my own parents growing up, it would be fear. More than the love I may have felt toward them, I felt an overwhelming sense of fear. I was afraid of them—afraid I would get yelled at (which could occur for any and no reason at all), afraid I would be hit, criticized, insulted, etc. If you had to answer that question for yourself about your own childhood, what word would you use? And to go one step further, what word do you think your own children would use about you?
Last weekend, my 4-year-old kicked me. It’s a painful, embarrassing, and infuriating tale to have to tell—at least that was my initial thought. Not to mention this is highly, highly, highly (did I say HIGHLY??) frowned upon and quite frankly unthinkable coming from a black and brown family.
We had just finished having a good time at a trampoline park, and she wanted to be the person to retrieve our belongings from the locker. I gave her the key and she tried to unlock it, but she couldn’t get it. My older daughter swooped in to help and my 4-year-old got mad. Big mad.
So much so that when I approached her, she kicked me. Right in my shin.
In instances like this, we have less than a millisecond to respond, and oftentimes the knee-jerk (or should I say shin-jerk) reaction is to reach way back and deep down into our past experiences of how we were parented and pull out a reaction that resembles that of our own childhoods. Thankfully, I am on this journey of becoming a better parent and not repeating the same dysfunctional patterns I grew up in, and so I did not hit her back, which is what would have happened to me. But this incident did make me think I was failing as a mother because I would never have even imagined doing that to either of my parents.
With not much to draw from but hurt feelings and a hurting shin, I shouted, “Excuse me! We do not kick! Are you kidding me?! I just spent all this money on bringing you here and this is the thanks I get? You have been wanting to come to this jump park for a long time and I finally brought you and you kick me? I can’t believe this! I think this is going to be the first and last time I ever bring you here! I can’t do nice things for little girls who kick and hit their parents!”
Not my finest moment. By this point, she was hysterical because she wanted to be able to come back to the trampoline park again. When we got to the car I informed them both that I needed some time to think about what happened. I told them I was very disappointed and very hurt about what happened and that I needed to take a couple of moments to myself.
I was quiet the entire car ride.
At one point my baby asked, “Mommy are you okay?” To which I responded, “You know what? Not really. I’m still very upset about what just happened! I still need more time!”
In my silence, I guess I was trying to figure out what would make her think it was okay to kick me. That bothered me the most. I knew for a fact that she’d never kick her dad or her grandmother and that hurt me even more and made me even angrier. I’ve been having lots of financial issues, and it was a huge sacrifice for me to take them to that park. I was upset about this. I got to thinking about how she doesn’t respect me and that made me even angrier. None of these things was her issue. It was all my stuff.
When we got home, I worked on making their lunch. And while they played, I prayed. I said, “God I need your wisdom on this. I truly am at a loss for what to do about this or how to handle this situation.”
A few seconds later—honestly, this had to have been the first time in my entire life I got such an immediate sense of an answer to my prayer—a question rose up in my heart for which I can not take credit. I heard it loud and clear echoing in my heart and mind . . .
What would a loving parent do?
It was such a powerful question for me and as I thought about it, tears flooded my face. Especially because I couldn’t think back to my own parents’ model of what loving parents would do. Some of the answers I came up with were:
A loving parent wouldn’t take that behavior personally.
A loving parent would look to see what role they played in the situation.
A loving parent would not hold a grudge.
A loving parent would remain calm and consistent in their love for their child.
A loving parent would look to see how deeply hurt or angry or disconnected from the relationship a child has to be to engage in that behavior.
A loving parent would seek out ways to repair the relationship.
A loving parent would maybe consider that this may be age-appropriate behavior though not ideal.
A loving parent would speak from their heart and not their hurt.
And so I finished preparing lunch and told the girls to come to the table and that I wanted to talk to them. They were curious to know what I wanted to talk about, and I told them to come sit with me and see.
“I’m really disappointed about what happened at the trampoline park today. Can you tell me what was happening for you and why you got so mad?” I asked.
“Well I wanted to open the locker and you wouldn’t let me!” my 4-year-old responded.
“It’s okay to be angry but it’s not okay to kick or hurt other people when we’re angry. I really want to be a better mother for you two. What can I do to be a better mom?”
“You are a better mama right now!”
“What else can I do?”
“So if my kid kicks their parent, the parent is not supposed to yell?” I questioned.
“No! You’re supposed to say we don’t kick sweetie!”
“But just to be clear, we do not kick when we are angry. What could you have done differently next time?”
“I could have just talked to you about it.”
I was blown away by our conversation. When she told me I was a “better mama right now” I had to hold back tears because to me what she was saying was, just by sitting with her and having a calm conversation and revisiting the scenario in a way that was constructive I was showing her love and being a loving parent.
I still don’t know if I handled this situation correctly.
From all that I’ve read, timeouts only create distance and isolation. You did something bad and I want you away from me because of it, so I decided against that route. From my research, I’ve also heard that I should always be striving to protect and maintain a connection with them. What I blurted out and shouted at the park was my stuff that I didn’t create enough space in between the incident and my reaction to get a handle on the situation and just breathe.
I do think that such a simple yet profound question to continuously ask ourselves What would a loving parent do? can have such a far-reaching impact on the choices we make, the words we use, and the course of action we take with our children. Especially if we ourselves came from less than loving homes.
Make a list if you have to. Most importantly for me, I was able to do something with my kids that was never done with me when I was a kid—have a conversation. It may seem minor to some but it’s a huge deal for me when this type of connection and understanding didn’t happen.
There was a point in my parenting when I thought fear was actually something I was supposed to instill in my children because it’s all I knew as a child, but I thought that meant I would be respected. I understand that kids need to feel safe which is not something I felt as a child but that I am striving to provide my children with.
What was initially a painful tale to tell, is now such a powerful example of what operating as a loving parent can do.