There’s nothing more terrifying that having your own worst traits staring back at you through the words, actions, facial expressions of your children. It’s inevitable, but that doesn’t make the punch in the emotional gut any less painful. It’s even harder to take when someone else has to point out that maybe, just maybe, your daughter’s behaviour is a reaction to your own crappy ways of dealing with things. Ouch.
A couple of weeks ago myself and my husband went to our daughter’s ‘Parents Evening’ at nursery. Normally, I don’t expect much from Parents Evening. She’s three. For my money, as long as she can thread a few pieces of pasta onto a piece of string and bring me home a necklace or two occasionally, I’m happy. The odd finger-painted masterpiece wouldn’t go amiss either but I’m really not worried about whether she’s counting, reciting the alphabet, understanding Einstein’s theory of relativity. She’s got at least another 15 to 18 years to learn that shit and stress out about it and worry about deadlines and tests and whether she’s measuring up. The longer I can stave that shit off, the better.
We sat down with the lovely Stacey at nursery and she talked us through her progress. So far so good. She’s a smart cookie…she was doing fine with no red flags in terms of the progress that they are able to measure and quantify. For me though nursery has one job: it’s about teaching her how to exist in social situations, it’s about teaching her that there are other people in the world, that she’s not the centre of attention. It’s about building a healthy respect for authority – knowing that even though Stacey may not be her mama, she’s the boss at nursery and therefore requires nothing but Billie’s best behaviour. Essentially, nursery is about teaching kids not to be total dicks.
Anyway, as it turns out, our kid was being a bit of a dick.
“Billie’s doing really well. She’s exceeding in all areas of development but there is just one thing I want to talk to you about. She’s not being very nice to other children.”
I would rather have been told that she was illiterate but kind. I have made a point of telling her that she must be kind every single day of her goddamn life and this, this, is what we hear at parents evening? My first reaction was anger fuelled by enormous disappointment. That lasted for about twenty seconds until Stacey followed it up with, “The thing is, she’s quite bossy and if other children don’t do what she tells them to do she starts shouting at them and gets really frustrated.”
I could hear my husband stifling a knowing smile. I couldn’t argue with him. We both knew where she’d got this from.
I held my hands up (and my head down!) This was definitely my fault. Since the birth of Bo, a lot of my conversations with Billie had become largely transactional and yes, bossy. With two of them, a job and a husband away a lot, efficiency had become essential and any fannying around was sure to make my whole day come crashing down around my ears. Or at least that’s what I’d come to believe. What I hadn’t realised is that I was modelling exactly the behaviour I didn’t want her to emulate. I was a bit shouty, a lot impatient, and more than a little fucked off when she didn’t do what I asked her to immediately.
Yes, this was something I was going to have to own. To give me some credit, it came from a place of anxiety, stress, pressure, exhaustion…I’m not just a bonafide douchebag. I was handling a lot and letting it get to me. So, I made some resolutions:
- When Bo was napping I wasn’t going to use that time to get shit done (unless absolutely necessary). I was going to use that time paying attention to Billie and doing some fun shit with her.
- I was going to REALLY try to not lose my shit when she didn’t do what I asked her to do immediately.
- I created a ‘Kindness Chart’ – after 14 kindness ticks she gets a treat. This could be an ice-cream (with a flake obvs), her nails painted, a movie at the cinema etc. Every time she shares, let’s someone go first, says something kind, she gets a tick. She doesn’t get a tick for ‘Please and thank you’ and for not beating the shit out of her sister or the cat…that’s stuff that she should just DO).
It’s totally turned everything around. I don’t always manage not to lost my shit and she doesn’t always remember to not scream at Bo for taking a sip of her water but, you know, small steps. The only down side is that she’s smart enough to play the system so when she had one tick left to get in order to get her ice-cream, I reminded her and she looked around the room, thinking. Stopped when she saw my dress and said, “That dress is pretty mama. Do I get a tick?”
Erm, no babe…but good try and everyone knows, God loves a trier.