When I was younger, I babysat for extra pocket money. It truly felt like a calling. From the age of 13, I could do it all. Have a blast with the kids? Check. Dinner on the table on time? Not a problem. Bedtime routine? My specialty.
I was able to run the show. The kids I watched were quick to listen. When they weren’t, I was able to embody authority. Basically, I was the perfect parent — before I had my own kids.
I knew that my own kids would be respectful. They would listen the very first time I asked them to do something. They would follow the rules and do so happily.
Obviously, motherhood quickly brought me to reality.
I have two iron-willed boys, each of whom has his own sense of how things should go. We’ve had some battles. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve reacted rather than responded. Some days, I found myself hating the sound of my own voice.
Why did I have to repeat myself 10 times for my son to hear me? Why was he so distracted? Why was I so quick to anger?
One day, my boys were playing in the other room while I was making lunch. I heard my oldest yell, “NO! Do NOT take my car! That is a BAD choice!”
I froze. It wasn’t his words that upset me, but the tone of his voice. It was ugly. In it, I heard frustration and anger. I heard a lack of love and empathy. I heard my own voice in his. I was filled with instant and intense mom-guilt.
This is how I’ve been speaking to my children?
The next day, I asked my son to repeat after me: “I am honest, I am kind, I am respectful, I am loved.”
At first, he giggled, but he repeated me. That day, anytime I began to correct his behavior, I asked him to tell me his reminders again. Each time, he did, and over the next few days, I felt he was not only understanding, but also believing the words.
More than anything I’ve tried before or since, these affirmations, or “reminders,” are the most effective way to help my son escape a negative frame of mind.
Yelling, time-outs, threats — for whatever reason, these seemed to encourage poor behavior. It was as though he was fulfilling this self (or mom)-proclaimed prophecy. Instead of hearing me reprimand him for a poor choice, he is reminded instead of the goodness he holds within him.
He is not defined by the mistakes he makes. Instead, he is reminded that he is honest. He is kind. He is respectful. And more than anything, he is so, so loved.