This is a guest post from Aja Rutledge of She Takes Steps.
“Uh oh,” I heard my child say. As I looked over to see what sparked the comment, I saw the cup on its side and juice flowing from the table to the floor. My son was frozen as if he found out about the mannequin challenge and decided this was the time to record his own version.
The natural response would be to grab some paper towels, head over and engage my son in helping to clean it up. Instead, I felt a boiling up within me, something erupting in my throat.
And then it happened. I exploded.
“What did you do that for?! Why are you just standing there? Clean it up!” I started vigorously grabbing paper towels and headed to the accident location. As I sharply dropped to the floor to clean the mess I saw my son flinch, in fear, out of the corner of my eye.
That fear softened me, but I still vigorously cleaned up the mess as my child perfected his mannequin stance. Once done, I muttered some comments and headed to my room as shame took over, tears dripping down my face.
How did this happen? Why did I respond like that? It was JUST spilled juice, seriously not a big deal.
Sitting on the bed, ashamed, embarrassed, and actually afraid, it hit me: I was repeating what my mother did with me. I was once in my son’s shoes, a little kid stuck in fear trying to understand what I did and how to prevent having more rage turned on me.
Yet, here I was, repeating the pattern—the pattern I vowed never to repeat with my own child.
It was a tremendously scary yet welcome realization because such a realization always precedes change. It felt like a “make it or break it moment,” and truthfully, it was. It was now or never—and I made the choice to change my behavior so that my son won’t respond in the same negative ways with his future children.
Let it be known that I didn’t respond like this all of the time—not even a majority of the time. But enough of the time…enough to cause damage, enough to continue to pass on the cycle.
Enough of the time for me to finally say, “Enough is enough!”
For you, it might not be spilled juice; it might be whining or refusing to go to bed or any number of other parenting difficulties most of us face. But whatever it is, if it’s causing you to overreact and snap at your children regularly, then it’s hurting them and it’s hurting you—and it’s time for a change.
But change is never easy, is it? Especially changing something I experienced myself for decades, something I didn’t know was in me until I had my own child. Something that comes out so unexpectedly and shocked even me.
So I created a concrete plan to become my best mommy-self—following these four steps.
4 Steps to Becoming the Best Mom You Can Be
1. Decide to make a change.
Sounds simple, yes, but hear me out.
Most of us know about plenty of things that aren’t exactly good for us, but that doesn’t mean we do anything about them. Take sugar for instance; I’m guessing you know sugar is bad for your health, but does simply knowing that fact motivate you to go out and eliminate all sugar from your diet?
For most people, the answer is a resounding no. Pass me one of those brownies!
It is only when we intentionally decide that the risks of eating sugar are far worse than the struggle of eliminating sugar from our diet that we are able to make the change.
There has to be a decisive moment—and the same goes for changing our parenting tactics.
You must make a solid decision that the pain of seeing your child flinch when you approach her is far worse than continuing what you’re doing. Or perhaps, you must choose to acknowledge that your child will parent his/her future children the same way if you don’t make a drastic change.
It can be painful to think about, for sure—but that pain can propel us forward.
2. Forgive yourself.
Remember that in my story I went to my room and felt a horrible sense of shame at my response to my son? ‘What kind of mother does that to her child?’ That’s what I was thinking.
I bet you’ve had those thoughts at times, so let me be blunt: You must forgive yourself. Period.
Forgiving yourself doesn’t let you off the hook for making the changes; it just lets you see yourself as human. You are repeating what you were ultimately taught. You weren’t provided the tools to respond in a different manner.
Acknowledge that and forgive yourself. Yes, your response wasn’t ideal but it also isn’t irreparable, especially since you made a decision to change it (you did, right?). Release the responsibility you put on yourself to do something you have no idea how to do, and cry for the mistakes you’ve made and the pain you’ve caused. Most importantly, cry for the pain you hold inside. Release it and forgive yourself.
According to Psych Central, “A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma. Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback.”
One thing I’ve learned in this parenting gig is that your kids will hit your triggers. In fact, they are masters at it.
It’s up to you to know what your triggers are so you can respond accordingly when they are hit.
My son used to continuously disregard my requests. I would feel so pissed by the 3rd time I repeated my request. After really analyzing these instances, I realized that his disregard triggered my feelings of continuously being ignored and not acknowledged as a child. I wasn’t responding to him, but to my feelings the trigger brought up.
Knowing your triggers helps you to know how your children trigger you, allowing you to create a plan of how to respond intentionally instead of just reacting impulsively to the situation.
4. Find a mentor.
It’s amazing how many topics formal education covers in this country, but the most critical jobs are FIOY – Figure It Out Yourself.
Even so, there are ways to learn from others.
I truly believe that finding a mother mentor is a critical key to learning new ways of relating, responding, and interacting with your children.
There are many other benefits to obtaining a mother mentor, also.
A mother mentor can be—but doesn’t have to be—an “in person” relationship. It also doesn’t have to be one person. As you think back, were there things that friends, mothers, aunts, or maybe teachers you had did with children that you admire or feel is a great way to handle situations with children? If so, those things would begin to make up your mother mentor.
Also, look around you and either find a one-on-one mentor (a family member, someone at church, or a mom coach) or create a mother mentor by identifying mothering skills you admire from women you see.
You do have everything within you to be a great mom, and taking the steps to make some necessary changes doesn’t only affect you but also your children—and all subsequent generations.
Life is full of choices, and here’s one right in front of you:
Will you choose to heal your own hurts and parent your children in an emotionally supportive way?
Doing so is perhaps the greatest gift you can give them.
Aja Rutledge coaches women to help them become the amazing moms they want to be to their children— despite having a strained or nonexistent relationship with their own mothers. Through her company, She Takes Steps, Aja offers individual and group coaching programs. As a mom to a 9-year-old boy, she desires for every mother to be the nurturing, connected, and enjoyable mom that she knows they are capable of being.
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