To the lady behind me in line last Friday at Walmart:
It doesn't have to be this way. Truly, it doesn't.
It was indeed particularly crazy for a trip to Walmart that day. So many people. Such long lines. We both chose the wrong one, with the cashier who is terribly sweet hearted but also terribly, terribly slow. And because of that, the two of us became acquainted.
For several minutes, I listened to you shout at your child in a most hateful tone of voice. I really cannot put my finger on why it breaks my heart as deeply as it does to hear parents or grandparents speak so harshly to children. I know that I wasn't spoken to kindly as a child, myself, but I don't have specific memories of it that stand out in my mind. Nevertheless, I heard you yell at your daughter, with a voice oozing impatience, annoyance, disgust, frustration, and cruelty.
She was looking at, and handling, the items placed purposefully and temptingly within reach of the obligatory cashier lines. You shouted at her repeatedly to come back to you. She didn't budge. She gave no outer indication that she'd heard you at all. You continued to bark at her with ugliness. This went on and on. It was what you expect to hear shouted to a 2 or 3 year old child at the grocery store.
These hateful displays in public -- they aren't something I can ignore, push aside and go about my day. I finally looked up from my attempt at minding my own business to see the object of this diatribe. I discovered she wasn't a toddler at all. In fact, I recognized her. She's in first grade at my kids' school.
What I wanted to say to you, but didn't have the courage while standing in line at Walmart, was that it didn't have to be this way.
Do I relate to feeling fed up, at the end of my rope, utterly done and exasperated, devoid of patience to deal with the frustrations of being a parent? Most assuredly yes! Do I get this right all the time? Most assuredly no! I come to you not as someone who has this all figured out and gets it right all the time. I come to you as a fellow mom and person who feels, and wants to stop the perpetuation of broken.
I wonder sometimes about parents who speak harshly to their children, spouting empty threats, never imposing consequences until the point at which they snap and go past the point of what is wise: do they do so out of ignorance, or out of apathy or laziness, or something else altogether, or perhaps a combination of all of these things?
That's how I was parented. I remember the guessing game. How far could you go before the snap? It was never the same. Always walking on eggshells, with no respect for anyone. Did my parents do the best they could? I suppose so. They did what they knew to do: how they were treated/parented as a child themselves, or the opposite of some things that they knew they didn't wish to repeat. This was also the early 80s. Feminists had penetrated the realm of the Parenting Experts at the time, touting the gentle parenting for gentle children approach. I'm sure they were influenced by the media's reach about how some things should be handled. Should they have tried harder? Done better? As someone who is constantly striving to improve and better myself, I cannot help but think yes, they should have. They should have tried to learn how to do things better. But they were products of a different culture than I know, and also products of brokenness themselves. And broken parents perpetuate the brokenness.
By the grace of God, I was able to see past it all and declare I would stop it. I would not contribute to the cycle.
I'm certain personality does play a large role in all of this. I'm driven to improve. I'm compelled to do things the right way. There is an inner working that forces me to analyze and look for change. I'm constantly thinking, and I look for the big picture, the grand scheme, the long term impact. I encourage you to do that, too.
For the situation last Friday at walmart, there are two things at stake. First, you have taken what at first appears to be the easy road, only to discover you took the hard road. So many do this, and it hurts me to watch. Because the one who ultimately suffers is the child. Second, when you show your child no respect, she in turn will never show you any.
I wonder if you handled your daughter the way you did because you truly don't know there is any other way. It was how you were treated, and so you do the same. But there is another way! And that's why I wanted to write.
It isn't easy to deal with an obedience situation with your children. It never is. But if you deal with it, from the earliest days, the instant it arises, they learn that you mean business and obey. It isn't ever convenient. It never happens when you've had a full night's rest, or eaten right, or have no where else to be that day... it happens when it is embarrassing, it happens when you don't have time, and most often it happens when you are utterly sapped of energy.
When you choose to let something go, or just verbally shout a threat (that isn't followed through), you've chosen second best and made your job that much harder. They will not listen, they will not obey until the consequence comes near. But the problem here is that by the time the consequence comes, so does your anger. And anger and parenting should not go hand in hand.
I speak from experience. Whenever I've found myself angry with my children, it has ALWAYS without fail, been my fault. Because I've allowed my laziness to triumph, not dealt with a situation, and slowly but surely, they enter the realm of disobedience. I get frustrated and angry. And it was all because I didn't enforce the rules. I let them bend the rules, "get by" for a bit, until it was 'I' who'd had enough and snapped. It doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to spend your days angry at your children.
It may seem easy, or convenient, to not enforce a consequence immediately... but in the end, you've made it worse. You've made it worse for them, and harder for you. And you've not avoided having to deal the hand of a consequence. I encourage you to push through. Invest early, invest now. Demonstrate that you are consistent and trustworthy. Don't exchange easy for good. Decide. Choose. Before it happens, choose to act and follow through. Every day is a new day, and a chance to do it better.
It has been said that 90% of the conflict and friction in daily life is due to tone of voice. I believe it. I also believe that the tone of voice we use with our children is critical. Have you read the quote "the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice"? What a profound statement, and what a monumental task that has been put on our plates as parents. As I said earlier, I don't believe that anger should enter our world as parents.
We must find a way to communicate the things that need to be said to our children, with tones of voice that bestow a sense of respect. We need to speak to them with tones that fill them with the knowledge that we love them, we find them valuable, that they matter, that they are significant, that we respect them, and because of all of these things, we must discipline them to grow up to become a good person.
The way we speak to them will continue to speak to them for the remainder of their lives! If we want our daughter to respect herself, we must show her how by being the first person in her world to respect her.
When I spoke to your little girl with a kind tone, she looked up into my eyes. Perhaps I'm one to exaggerate. Perhaps I'm one to look for metaphor where there is none. Perhaps I'm just plain crazy. But her eyes met mine with a look that showed a sense of awe, that I, a grown up, would speak to her so kindly. She seemed starved for such a statement. She longs to know you respect her.
(on a similar but unrelated note, speaking to our older children with baby speak, or baby talk, and not our normal respectful tone of voice is harmful to them for the same reasons. It shows a lack of respect, in my opinion. Speaking to them, in the same tone we use with others in our sphere of influence, demonstrates to them that we value them, too.)
Fellow mom at Walmart, I fail at this daily, too. I get angry when I don't enforce the rules. I speak in tones of voice that I am wholly ashamed of. Maybe you were just having a really bad day. Maybe this isn't really who you are. I suspect that isn't the case from your daughter's behavior toward you and toward me. But I urge you on behalf of that precious little girl, and on behalf of the future of your relationship with her: Please stop yelling at her that way. We must learn to delay gratification. When we don't handle parenting situations immediately, and when we speak cruelly and harshly to our children, we are exchanging what is easy for what is ultimately best. Daily I choose best for my kids. Will you, too?