I sometimes hear moms almost bragging about it… “it’s been ages since I’ve used the restroom alone.” “She’s persnickety & suddenly won’t eat anything I make!!” As if being a Mommy Martyr makes you a good mommy.
There is a HUGE difference between what the average mom puts up with today, and what would have been allowed 30, 60, 100 years ago. Interestingly, in our post-feminist era, with women determined more than ever to not let *anyone* “walk all over them,” there are a whole lot of toddlers, kids, and teens out there doing just that.
Whether it is:
- correcting you as if they know better,
- being snide in the way they talk to you,
- rudeness about a meal you’ve made,
- interrupting your conversations,
- walking in on you as you go to the restroom,
- thoughtless comment about your post-partum belly,
- or some other actions, attitudes, or words,
YOU, mama, are the one teaching them how to treat others.
You might think, “oh that kind of thing doesn’t matter to me. I’m his mom. The thing I most want him to know is that I LOVE him. I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill.” And here is what I would say in response: the way to truly LOVE your child is to keep his long-term good in mind.
The thing that is best for his heart and character, long-term, is for him to learn to treat other people with kindness and respect.
And, please recognize:
YOU are an “other” in your child’s life.
This means: Mama, YOU have to stick up for YOU. The respect your child shows for you is ultimately a sign of respect toward God for sovereignly making you their mother. And it’s a foundational part of how your child will learn to treat others.
- Correcting you as if they know better is not OK. Yes, there may occasionally be times where they know better. But even those true corrections can be done with humility and a respectful tone. In my experience with our children, though, it is far more often the case that a 4-7 year old child has gotten too big for his britches and feels like his parent’s peer. His corrections often start with, “nuh-uh!” “no, it wasn’t…” and are often spoken reflexively. It becomes habit and happens both in groups and at home. This is worth nipping in the bud. Do not let your child become a person who perpetually corrects others and is wise in his own eyes.
- Being snide is not OK. You are your child’s rightful authority. “Honor your father and your mother” is a basic biblical principle. Mutual joking is one thing; rude snarkiness toward you is something different. You can usually FEEL the difference, and if you can’t, your husband or someone else who is wise and knows the situation may be able to help you think it through and rightly assess what’s appropriate and what’s not.
- Being rude and ungrateful about a meal is not OK. We want to raise children to be thankful for things done for them, and who realize that having someone else cook for them is a gift. So yes, this means, you may need to be the one to tell them they should say “thank you” for dinner, TO YOU. It may seem counterintuitive, or like fishing for a compliment for your cooking, but no– those are self-defeating lies. You are teaching your child gratitude, kindness, and the value of work.
- Interrupting is not OK. You can teach your child to place their hand on your arm, or to wait for a pause/break in the conversation, but you really can (and should) teach this to your child. Learning to patiently wait is an excellent skill. You are also teaching them to value the time and relationships of others, even if they have no interest in a particular conversation.
- Ignoring someone else’s privacy is not OK. “Please don’t ever walk in on someone going to the bathroom. Unless your hair is on fire, you can wait a moment while I finish going potty, and then ask me your question when I come out.”
- Making (even truthful) comments about pregnant body changes is not OK. A thoughtless comment about your post-partum belly is not intentionally hurtful, but it IS hurtful, and could be extremely hurtful if your child doesn’t learn from you not to say that, and they go and say that to another woman. So tell them. Not in an ugly way, but tell them. Let them know, “I know you’re just saying that, and you’re right, mom’s tummy is smushy right now, but you are never to say that to a woman who has just had a baby. It is hard work having a baby, and the woman’s body goes through a lot of changes. It’s much better to talk about how cute the baby is than to ever say something like that to a new mama, OK?” (Obviously, a 2 year old isn’t going to understand this very well. But older kids can — and should!– learn this.)
- And other things, too. You know what I’m talking about– these are the peculiarities that make your eye twitch and throat tighten. Perhaps your Mommy Radar has been going off but you’ve not been dealing with it. Eye rolls from her, heavy sighing when something is asked of him, an antagonistic tone, stomping feet… physical actions often give clear clues of what’s happening in the hearts of our children. (That’s true from about 8-10 months old all the way through our lives.)
Some moms find this hard… “Well, I don’t want to seem like I’m wanting special treatment, or like I’m simply standing up for my rights.” It can even have an unhealthy, seemingly-Christian spin on it, “well, Jesus turned the other cheek, and so I should just forgive and be a humble servant to my kids.”
Here’s the thing–
When you let your child walk all over you, you are not being a Christ-like servant. No, rather, you are not doing your job as a mom.
WHEN YOU LET YOUR CHILD WALK ALL OVER YOU:
you are teaching them that it is OK for them to show disrespect and unkindness to others.
you are building behaviors into their character that are going to do them harm for their whole life
- you are making it harder for them to one day (as an adult believer, which prayerfully, they may become) obey God and respect you, because the patterns of their heart will be habitually bent toward disrespect
- you are letting them act as if they are a better sovereign over their lives than God
- you are sowing seeds that will grow for decades and generations to come
Instead, can I encourage you to teach children how to treat YOU in the same way you would respond if they said or did those things to another human being?
This is your job.
Day in day out, you can teach your child what is normal, and acceptable, and appropriate for polite and pleasant interactions with other human beings. And the first place to start is often right under your nose… in the way they act toward you.
NOT SURE WHAT’S RIGHT OR NOT?
Perhaps you grew up in an unhealthy home, or you struggle to assess these things in daily life. If you’re not sure, consider these questions:
- Should a woman you greatly admire and respect (don’t jump over that description– picture her!) be treated and talked to the way you just let them treat you?
- If you were a missionary and they sat down to eat at a poor neighbor‘s table and reacted to that food the way they just reacted to the homemade meal you made, what would you do?
- Would you let them talk to Prince William, your Pastor, the President, the bank manager, the Pope, or your husband’s boss the way they just spoke to you?
- Observe norms about how they allow their children to interact with adults.
- Listen to how their children speak to them.
- Ask questions.
- Lean in and learn from families that get this part right.
I know it can feel weird, at first, to stick up for yourself. You can trick yourself into thinking that it is selfish or not right.
But in actuality, by teaching them how to treat you, you are teaching them much more than simply that. You are teaching them basic concepts of respect of others, and how they are to respond to authorities in their lives (which they will have, their entire lives, no matter how rich or famous or brilliant they grow to be).
You can do this!
Teach your children how to treat you, and stick up for yourself. Teach your children respect and gratitude, and you’ll be doing yourself and them a world of good.