There was a thing going around a while ago, a little story about a kid who just wanted to give his mum a bunch of flowers and she was busy and frazzled and kept telling him to get out of her way and stop annoying her and all that stuff that I’m sure many of us are familiar with saying to our kids at some point.
It culminated with a guilt tripping suggestion that we would never treat strangers the way we often treat our children, particularly in the way we speak to them.
Many a mother sobbed just a little, and vowed to change their ways and treat their children a lot more like they would treat others.
The story did make a lot of sense; this young child had gone out of his way to pick some flowers from the neighbours’ gardens to gift to his mother, whom not only failed to see the gift he was trying to present, but dismissed him entirely. And repeatedly.
It was a little heart wrenching.
It was also very, very normal. Something that happens in households across the world on a regular basis.
In fact, there were so many mums that did that hitching sob thing, and commenting, that it was surprising the fact that so many mums knew the experience, yet each one of them felt alone and extremely guilty, and like they were one of very few who brushed a child of in exasperation.
Not helped, of course, by the so many other mums who did the sanctimonious “that’s so right, I would never do that” thing and adding a few other comments just to turn the guilt inducing knife that had been jabbed into the hearts of mums who were already feeling crap about it.
Lovely story as it was, and with a lovely, thought provoking message that it had, I do have a problem with it.
Would you speak to strangers the way you speak to your children?
In most circumstances, no. Absolutely not.
Because most strangers don’t speak to me the way my children speak to me.
I’m sure most strangers don’t speak to many mums (or dads) the way their kids speak to them.
The strangers that do speak in such a manner are often responded to accordingly.
We’ve all heard I don’t know how many stories about strangers who make unnecessarily, unsolicited and very unwelcome comments to parents, and parents have responded in a similar manner.
Worse, even, than when responding to kids who are being arsefaces.
It’s not just parenting either. It’s humans in general, which is why things like road rage, fisticuffs at Boxing Day sales, and general rudeness happen out there, in the world.
Oh, and online! That’s a whole other realm of rudeness and horribleness.
However, as a rule, most of us are nice and polite and respectful of strangers, because that is how they direct their speech towards us. They say please and thank you, they hold doors open, or they say “enjoy your meal” when they bring it to your table.
It is, in fact, a subconscious act for us to respond in a manner that is given to us in the first place. If a person speaks to you quietly, calmly and politely, it is fairly standard that one would respond in the same tone, without even realising it.
In doing some research for this article, just about all the information I came across was along the lines of speaking to your child in a calm, collected, and polite manner if you want them to stop yelling, stop being rude, be polite et cetera, et cetera.
None, of course, was directed the other way. In fact, there was approximately zero mention at all of it being perfectly normal for people, parents included (parents are people, too, right?) to react in the same way you are spoken to, without even thinking about it.
Yes, if you are being yelled at, screamed at, sworn at, berated, being told what to do, spoken to rudely, or experiencing a tantrum at your feet about The Wrong Spoon, it is natural to respond in the same way.
It’s a reaction.
It actually takes a deep breath and a conscious effort to not respond in the same manner.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting it is okay, per se, to yell abuse at your child who is yelling abuse at you, or demanding a drink of milk, or whatever they’re doing.
The way we respond to children, and the things we say to them do have an impact. In many cases it can be a profound impact, which has long lasting effects. So, yeah, we kind of do have to think about it.
What I am suggesting is to not take too much heart, and don’t take on the Guilt Trip, when someone says “Would you speak to a stranger like that?”
Another, nicer, I guess, way to look at it is this … there is another phrase that goes like this: Familiarity breeds contempt.
Whilst this is not a particularly nice or positive phrase, nor does it inspire any sort of nice thought, there is a silver lining.
Or grasping at straws, but it works for me.
You see, people who are most familiar with you, like your partner or kids, are most likely to be rude to you. To stop being so polite, and lose their temper and direct all their stress at you.
Familiarity = contempt.
Or, you could look at it like Familiarity = Comfort/Trust/Safety.
If your kids are treating you with contempt, there’s a good chance they’re doing so because they know it is a safe place for them to do so. They trust you and they find comfort in you.
They love you.
It doesn’t mean, either, that they be allowed to get away with treating people like shit, having tantrums over stupid shit, and basically just being little shits.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad mother, either.
It means you’re a human that doesn’t like being spoken to like crap, and also that you have perfectly normal, natural reactions to being spoken to like crap. Just like most other humans.
So be honest, would you speak to strangers the way you speak to your kids?