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Jan 3 2011

Not-So-Nice Mama

By at 1:44 pm

My 5-year-old made me cry. He said something hurtful, but it was also very accurate. It’s not important what he said.

Okay, I’m lying. It is important what he said.

He said “Dada’s nice and Mama’s not.” Ouch.

Context: I had one of my least exemplary days as a Mama yesterday; our little guy is cutting a molar and is waking to nurse more than his usual five times a night, since we came home from vacation with my in-laws, my kids seem bored out of their minds in a house full of toys that they supposedly used to love (if affection for toys is to be measured by how much time they spend playing with them), and I go back to filming in a few days and have a trillion things to do and not enough time to do them.

That’s no excuse for being impatient, short, and sarcastic with my kids, though, and I know that.

But when my 5-year-old quite innocently uttered that hurtful but accurate-for-the-moment phrase (“Dada’s nice and Mama’s not”), the “learning moment” from the whole miserable day was that, as I started to well up with tears and I gently said, “That hurt my feelings,” the 5 year old–unprompted–said to me in a small but sincere voice, “Mama, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”

I quietly left the room not in a stormy punishment, but as a retreat of shame, and also to contemplate a victory of sorts.

You see, my husband and I are of a philosophy that we do not encourage our children to “Say you’re sorry!” or “Say please!” or even “Say thank you!” We teach these niceties by example and modeling, and for us, it has worked. Our older son has indeed developed into a “polite” and “well-mannered” little person who knows when to use the phrases I know that so many parents think you have to force your child to utter.

The “Mama’s not nice”  example is a good demonstration of what has, in our family, worked. My son saw that my feelings were hurt, and for that he was genuinely sorry. That’s empathy. I was not accusing him of being “wrong” nor did I ask that he “take that back!”

For me, parenting has been an amazing opportunity to both be called on my crap and to teach the next generation that I may be bigger and stronger, but I am not always “better” at managing my difficult emotions. Being real in the presence of my children, allowing myself to fail, admitting when I do, and not requiring that a child’s reality be twisted to justify my behavior makes me grateful to be a mother in this age of awareness and child-centered parenting.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to take a deep breath, and try and make today better than yesterday. I may not succeed, but I know that, if nothing else, that empathetic 5 year old will keep me honest.

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6 Responses to Not-So-Nice Mama

  1. Button says:

    Amazing share! I think we all have those moments.

  2. Acrophile says:

    That’s lovely. I would like to find out (there’s never any info on the AP sites) how to get *to* that kind of parenting *from* the more “traditional” style “be polite, say please” etc that we have been practicing. How do you go from one parenting style to another when your kids are 2 and 5 with one on the way? That is the blog I want to read!

  3. Kelly Lovejoy says:

    In light of the TodayMOMS article, I was wondering whether you and your family would be interested in attending one of the upcoming unschooling conferences.

    For details on dates, locations, and more information: (May, Vancouver, WA) (August, Boston, MA) ; (September, San Diego, CA)

    The conferences promote gentle, peaceful parenting and allowing children to learn in their own time and in their own way.

    I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.


    Kelly Lovejoy
    803 237 4948

    “There is no single effort more radical in its potential for saving the world than a transformation of the way we raise our children.” Marianne Williamson

  4. Rebecca Dube says:

    Wow, I think that’s a wonderful parenting moment!
    I mean, of course, not the lousy day or the mama’s not nice remark … we’ve all been there, so sorry, all you can do is hope tomorrow will be better — and it will! But the unprompted “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings” — yesss! That kind of empathy in our kids is what we’re all aiming for, right? That’s awesome that you were able to teach him that by modeling the behaviour. You’re doing a great job, clearly… even on a bad day!

  5. Kristi says:

    “For me, parenting has been an amazing opportunity to both be called on my crap and to teach the next generation that I may be bigger and stronger, but I am not always “better” at managing my difficult emotions.”

    You hit the nail on the head here. I have been thinking about the curse of perfection lately, about the pressure to be the “perfect mom,” and realized that the “perfect mom,” should she exist (and certainly she does not, in nature) is a paradox. By being perfect, one never allows their children to learn how to make a mess, cope with it, and clean it up (metaphorically… or literally… or both!)

    By being imperfect, and teaching your children how to manage errors, tempers, etc., we are modeling for them how to be adults who can deal well with failure or mistake gracefully.

    Sorry your week sucked, though. I think we have all been there… but I hope that it is of some comfort to you that your LO seems to have a solidly developing conscience and empathy, which so many children are never raised to have. What a beautiful moment folded into a stressful week.


  6. Jana says:

    Thank you for this. I have three kids, two of them under two years, and find that my fuse has been pretty short at times lately. There have been times when I’ve felt like crying as soon as I snapped at my kids, I felt so shameful. And my husband and I also try to teach by example, though sometimes we don’t quite measure up. :)


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