It was a typical morning, like any other in our household. My 5-year-old son had finished his breakfast while his twin 2-year-old sisters sat at the table doing what they usually do during meals—playing with their utensils, making faces at one another, and basically doing everything possible to avoid putting food directly into their mouths. I’m used to breakfast taking 45 minutes with this crew, so I’ve learned to tolerate the table-side antics. But what I don’t tolerate well is when my daughters decide to take their food and throw it wildly onto the floor once they no longer want to eat it.
That’s exactly what happened on this particular morning. But before I could muster a response, my son saw what happened and starting going off on a major rant that sounded too familiar.
“You girls!” he shouted. “I can’t stand your behavior anymore. We go through this every day and I just can’t take it anymore. I don’t know what on earth I’m going to do with you. You’re just terrible at the table. Terrible. TERRIBLE.”
By the time he finished, I was utterly speechless. Though he may have paraphrased just a bit, clearly, the bulk of his tirade came from me. I know I’ve uttered the “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you” bit on more occasions than I can count, and I’m certain I’ve used the word “terrible” more freely than I’d care to admit.
But my son’s impromptu imitation got to me not just because of the words he said, but the tone he used. My son, who typically plays the role of loving, doting older brother (case in point: he calls his sisters “my girls”), had shouted at his sisters in a loud, menacing tone—a tone he only could’ve picked up from the person behind those usual rants.
And with that, came a painful reality check.
While I am mostly guilty of ranting during meal times, when my kids’ behavior was typically at its worst, I’d be lying if I were to say that those rants didn’t slip out on other occasions too—like when my daughters fought over the same toys, refused to clean up, or touched things they’re not supposed to.
Did those rants happen all the time? No. But clearly, they were happening often enough for my son to not only take notice, but spit back some of my key catchphrases verbatim.
And so that day I pledged to get better about watching my language and lowering my voice, for my daughters’ sake —but also for my son’s. Yes, having several young children act up at the same time can often push you over the edge, and I’m sure I’m not the only parent who’s lost her cool on more than one occasion.
But I really, really don’t want to turn into one of those parents who explodes the second her buttons are pushed, and so I’m working on being mindful of my reactions and controlling them.
I don’t expect my girls to learn table manners overnight, no matter how hard I try to teach them or plead with them not to throw their food—simultaneously—on the floor. But while I may not be able to immediately fix their behavior, I can begin by working on my own.