He looked up at me with a face full of anger, tears and frustration. His sweet face contorted in a way I had never seen before. Where did this come from? Then I recognized I was making the same face back to him. In that moment I was crushed and full of shame for what I didn’t realize I was doing to my children. My anger and struggles were now thrust front and center in my face, by the face of my 4 year old son. I couldn’t believe how much I had been blaming his bad behavior on other things without looking at my parenting as well.
This may not be the case for every mother but my son specifically is a mimicker. He struggles to find his own voice, his wants and his likes in the world. Its very obvious already even at his young age, he obverses and replicates. This can mean wonderful things for him as he watches his daddy do yard work and he wants to join in. He sees me cracking eggs for breakfast and he wants to learn how. His little mind is always soaking in the information around him. I have already seen him picking up behaviors from his peers that I didn’t care for as well. But how I didn’t notice sooner that he is also picking up the bad habits of us, his parents, as well. Somehow I thought we were above his radar.
I’m the biggest part of his day, he is with me from the moment he wakes up until he goes to sleep. Of course he is learning from me and mimicking my actions. He is taking it all in all day, the good and the bad. I realized I was teaching him to yell and make aggressive faces during times of stress and frustration. I was devastated and felt so defeated.
Here I am reading all these books about helping kids through their life stages, thinking I am doing great! But what I was missing the most was also continuing to teach myself to handle this new phase of my life. As a mother, I needed to be handling myself the same way I expected him to be acting. Providing him with a good example of how to deal with big emotions. By looking into my sons angry face, I could see that I wasn’t doing a very good job.
It made me take a serious look at how I was shaping my children. Staying home with my children I thought I was providing them the best care around. But my stress level was high and I realized I was struggling to have happy days with them. And now its bleeding out into the personalities of my children. My hair trigger reactions are not necessary. Who cares if he is throwing play-doh on the floor. Does it really matter that he is singing at the top of his lungs? Do I really need to interject myself in every sibling disagreement? I want my children to be happy but I was making them frustrated and sad.
The bottom line is that he didn’t know what these big feelings inside him meant. And it is my job to help him figure them out. All I had been teaching him was ugly faces, aggressive tones and hurt feelings. Leaving everyone involved only more confused and hurt than before. He is a sensitive child and he often ends in tears even after showing me the mean, ugly, angry side of himself. The tears were telling me that he was not learning how to handle his emotions and that he didn’t understand how to fix the way he felt. So instead he mimicked the only other emotions he saw – MINE.
The effort and thought it takes throughout the day to handle situations “correctly” is exhausting. I know that no matter how hard I try I won’t do it right every time. I cannot promise to never loose my cool. But I know I can try harder than I am and make a conscious effort to breathe before reacting to situations. It sounds so silly but it works. Take the biggest breathe in and even make a big sigh sound out if you need to. It gives your brain and trigger a second to slow down. I have also found it distracts the screaming child in front of me as well. Sometimes it even gets a giggle.
All I can hope is that slowly, I can control my emotions and teach my children positive ways to handle tough situations and feelings. My biggest goal is to never ever find my angry expression on the face of one of my children again.