I was impatient with my five-year-old the other day. All day long, it seemed, he dawdled, whined and did everything in his power to annoy me. I finally reached a breaking point trying to get out the door. I barked at him to “hurry up and put on his coat.” Not missing a beat, my precocious little kid barked back at me, “Mom! Don't you know kids have bad days too?”
No, I hadn't stopped to consider that my son was having a bad day. I rarely stop to consider that my kids have bad days, pet peeves and annoyances—just like me. Later that night, I put myself in my kids' shoes and realized I was making all sorts of mistakes even though I consider myself a pretty good mom. After dwelling on this for awhile, I came up with these five things I'm sure kids wish parents understood.
1. Kids have bad days too. The statement that started it all. It doesn't take much to get me out of sorts—not enough sleep, not enough food, not enough respect. The same goes for my kids. I expect my family to offer me grace when I'm having a bad day, so I need to extend the same courtesy to my children. Maybe, with a little more love and a lot less impatience, the bad days will become fewer and fewer.
2. Parents sometimes have unrealistic expectations. In a perfect world, kids would come out knowing how to use the potty, clean up after themselves and express themselves without whining. We, however, live in a very imperfect world, and our job, as parents, is to mold our children's behavior. When my first son began potty training, I remember being so frustrated at his lack of progress. Two months later, he trained himself in a day without any help from me. He just needed to grow up a little more. The same principle applies to so many developmental tasks. Patience is a parent's greatest virtue.
3. We dismiss stages as unimportant annoyances. As a little kid, I remember my mom frequently saying, “It's just a phase.” At the time, it hurt my feelings because my “phases” were important in my mind. Now that I'm a mom, I find myself similarly dismissing my children's crazy antics—from wearing snow boots in July to needing every light on at night. However, developing a personality requires stages. Kids need to try on different roles to see what fits. In the end, it's the temporary stages that produce permanent personalities.
4. We run the race to nowhere. It almost seems like a game—seeing how fast our kids learn to sit up, walk, talk, read, drive and eventually leave. Among mothers, it becomes a point of pride whose child reaches milestones first, but the kids really don't care. In fact, I'm sure it hurts my kids' feelings to know I'm rushing through their childhoods in order to make a point. It doesn't matter if my five-year-old can speak five languages or if my two-year-old can paint museum-quality modern art. Kids just want to enjoy childhood.
5. We say “no” when we could say “yes.” My kids need boundaries and discipline, but that doesn't mean my most used word should be “no.” Being a mom is tiring, but I need to find the will to say “yes” more often. Yes, I'll build a block tower. Yes, I'll read one more book. Yes, I'll come and look at your blanket fort—even when I'm busy, and even when I have other things to do.
None of us likes to think we're making mistakes with our kids, but we all have areas we can improve. For me, all it took to see my deficiencies was listening to my kid. Luckily, it took very little of my time to improve and start meeting his needs better.
Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan, mom to three crazy boys, and wife to one amazing husband. She writes about passionate parenthood at moderatelycrunchy.com.