Let me tell you about the day I realized I was raising my kids to be A-holes. It was finally nap-time, and I sat there quivering with motherly rage over my eighth cup of coffee. Due to Christmas break, teacher workdays, and sick kids, I hadn’t been alone in what felt like months. To spare him from my wrath, I had instructed my nine-year-old to stay in his room while his twin brothers napped. Despite my request, he was about to make his fourth living room appearance in a 30 minute time period. He absolutely had to give me another update on what page number he was on in his book.
What kind of horrible mother would be angry with their kids for telling her about their reading successes? What kind of miserable person would tell her children not to bother her with such updates? THIS KIND. I finally realized I was so worried about damaging my kids’ self-esteem that I was allowing them to consistently and purposely violate my personal boundaries. I was teaching my children that someone who really loves them will always give them attention whenever they demand it. Hence, I was telling them it was okay to act like an A-hole.
I was messing this motherhood thing up. So how did I fix it?
I don’t bribe my kids with fun activities. Kids need to learn to respect peoples’ wishes because they were asked to, not because they’re expecting a reward. I didn’t owe my children anything in return for giving me some personal space. They were perfectly capable of tolerating my absence, and I no longer felt obligated to “earn” a few minutes of quiet time by distracting them with TV or video games. They could just deal.
I let them know they were hurting me. Be careful not to go over-the-top with this, but it is okay to tell kids that something they’re doing hurts your feelings or makes you uncomfortable. I don’t say cruel things to my children, but I don’t fully shield them from my feelings. Learning how their actions impact other people is an important part of childhood, and I wasn’t doing them (or me) any favors by working so hard to protect them from my emotions.
I ask them to make eye-contact before talking to me. Constant interruptions from my oldest son were driving me insane. Some days it felt like he was on a mission to disrupt every conversation I had and every task I attempted. Then I realized he just wasn’t paying attention. He would walk into a room and start talking before he assessed the situation. He didn’t take the time to notice if I was on the phone, elbow-deep in a blowout diaper, or doing something else that required a wee bit of focus. It takes a little practice, but teaching him to look at me before he talks has helped so much. He’s learning to look at what I’m doing and decide if it’s an appropriate time to start a conversation.
I set “don’t bother me” timers. Sometimes you just have to keep it simple. Set a timer and run. It sounds easy, but this is where my children try to push the boundaries. You’ll see. They’ll suddenly be starving and/or afraid they won’t survive 20 minutes without water, so consequences are important. Now my kids understand they’ll lose a privilege, usually TV, if they don’t respect my request for a little personal time. If I don’t get mine, they don’t get theirs.
I schedule time to discuss their accomplishments. I wanted to help my kids understand how to respect boundaries, but I didn’t want them to stop telling me what makes them feel proud or showing me their work. As a result, we’ve made show-and-tell part of our bedtime routine. Each night they share their drawings, Lego creations, anything else they’ve been dying to show me. Not only have they gotten out of the practice of giving me constant updates, their work has gotten much better. They’re spending more time on their projects since they’re not in a rush to come show me. A win-win.
My kids are good kids, and they’re going to be even better men. They’ll be adults who value the time and boundaries of others. No A-holes here!