Yesterday morning my eight-year-old son, Davis, was fighting with his younger brother, Nathan. They were bickering and arguing, and I could hear Davis picking on Nathan and telling him all the ways that he should be different.
To be honest, it was a typical morning in my house.
So, per usual, I was typically frustrated with his behavior.
“Why does he pick on his younger brother so much?” I asked myself in frustration.
And then, almost automatically, I bee-lined it downstairs to ask him the same question:
“Why do you pick on your brother so much??!”
He stared up at me blankly and I didn’t wait very long for a response before moving directly into “mom lecture mode.” I chastised him about how he shouldn’t treat his brother that way, he should be nicer, he should love him more, be an example to him, and on and on.
I was telling him all the ways that he should be different. And not in a loving tone, I might add. In other words, I was picking on him.
Are you seeing the parallels here that I was blinded to in the moment?
After picking on my eight-year-old, I started picking on myself. I found myself thinking things like, “If you were a good mom, you wouldn’t get frustrated with your kids.”
“If you were a good mom, you would be more patient.”
“If you were a good mom, you would enjoy being a mother more.”
“I mean, what kind of mother are you if you sometimes hate being a mom?”
“A terrible, horrible, awful, no good, very bad one,” I told myself.
When I feel like a terrible, horrible, awful, no good, very bad mom, I don’t ever show up as my best self.
This whole “picking on everyone” habit is kind of a vicious cycle. Big brother picks on little brother, mom picks on big brother, mom picks on herself. The question is, where can I break the cycle?
I can’t control how my eight-year-old treats his younger brother. I can teach him, love him, and give him rules and consequences, but ultimately he has the power to choose. I can, on the other hand, control how I respond to it.
What if I could, instead of lecturing him, get curious about why he often chooses to treat his brother the way he does? Curiosity is such an amazing tool in motherhood.
It might look something like this:
“Davis, can we talk for a minute? You seem really frustrated this morning. What’s going on for you right now? Are you having a bad day? Could you help me better understand the situation?”
When I am completely curious and open to understanding him—when I don’t have an agenda at all—I always learn something. Always.
Could I also offer the same kind of curiosity and grace to myself? Instead of jumping to, “I must be a bad mom since I don’t enjoy being a mom,” what if I got curious instead.
It might look something like this:
“What is going on for you right now, Sara? You seem really frustrated this morning. Are you having a bad day? What is it you really need right now and how can I help you get it?”
Maybe I need to adjust my schedule so that I get more sleep (which sometimes might mean going to bed with dishes in the sink and to-do lists left unchecked).
Maybe I need to make sure I’m getting proper nutrition.
Maybe I need to let the kids watch a show so I can take a mommy time-out.
Whatever it is, being open and curious and asking good questions will always help me solve the problem more effectively than when I berate myself.
When I ask good questions, I actually find solutions. It’s great. And I get to drop the part where I pick on myself or on my son.
QUESTION: Do you ever notice yourself falling into this cycle of challenging behavior and negative thoughts with yourself and your children?
CHALLENGE: Pause today and get curious about your behavior or the behavior of your children instead of getting frustrated. See if you can ask questions that help you resolve, rather than escalate, conflict.
Edited by Sharon Brown and Nollie Haws.
Photo provided by the author.