Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Behave Yourself! Part 1 of 2

If you're a perfect Mother, please raise your hand. Since no hands have gone up, happy to see I'm among friends.

I was raised by a mother whose love, I felt, was conditional upon how well I behaved.  If I minded my Ps & Qs, respected my elders (always addressed as Mr. & Mrs. no matter what they told me to call them), made exemplary grades and well, was a continued source of pride, all was right with the world. If I really thought hard about it, I could likely count each and every instance she told me, "I love you." Though the frequency has increased as she ages, it still sounds like a foreign language on the rare occasions when she utters those three little words. And I always cringe a little. I love my mother dearly and have accepted who she is. That said, I told myself I did not want to raise a son whose primary concern in life was to please his parents. Somedays I feel like I'm failing him.

Not everyday. Not on the days when I take him in my arms at the most unexpected moments and shower him with kisses and "I love yous". Not on the days when we're just plain silly together. Not on the days when I indulge happily in his love of animal books or sing "Thriller" at the top of my lungs in the car.

But on the day he broke down in tears when he spilled his glass of milk on the table, I knew I had failed him. "Mommy, don't be angry with me." It took everything I had not to break down into tears of shame at that moment. My loving, inquisitive, beautiful little being was upset because his automatic reaction to the spilled milk was "Mommy will be mad." I did that. I created that reaction. I know I did. And it makes me sad and disappointed in myself.

The other day, when riled up by the antics of the not-so-well-behaved neighbour boy, he pitched a toy at a painting on the wall. I cracked and suddenly let the stern "J-o-s-e-p-h!!!" fly from my mouth complete with face-tightening. He cowered and was on the verge of tears, apologies flying from his mouth. I recovered, quickly, asking him to please calm down (while asking myself the same question) and "we don't throw toys like that do we (insert rationale)?". The damage, however, had been done. To be VERY clear, he was not anticipating any physical reaction from me, but the fear of verbal disapproval.

Here's the deal: Throwing toys at things (the way he did) is not acceptable in this house. In fact, there are many behaviours that are unacceptable, particularly those that pose safety hazards. Bolting out into the street, running into a neighbour's house without knocking first, throwing a tantrum if he doesn't get what he wants (though we've never really had that issue), hitting/punching/biting other children/people in anger. I could go on.

However, I need to learn to teach/model behavior so that my child does not make decisions solely from a fear of disapproval. I have created that. I need help undoing it. Can you help me?

I love the little man my son is becoming but I want him to be his own little man, not the little man Mommy expects him to be. Even if it means he's not "well behaved". I don't want his primary motivation in life to be "gaining acceptance/approval". Not the way mine was for so long. And still is, to a certain extent. How is he going to have confidence to break the rules and take risks when he's older if he's afraid to do it now? Where do we draw the line between teaching them right from wrong (developing some form of moral compass) and giving them some freedom to grow? Ultimately, I need him to know to the depths of his soul that his Mommy does and will love him unconditionally.

This is part 1. Best to take this topic in baby steps...
ps. I keep reading this over and over again and wondering if I'm even making any sense or if I'm asking the right questions.