You know those fun kids’ parties where all the adults have been friends since forever, and the beers are flowing? The ones where people you love gather to genuinely celebrate a milestone – as opposed to the parties where you stand around the gazebo and awkwardly make small talk with people you vaguely know. Well, I was at one of the good ones this weekend; my guards were down, I was having fun and life was sweet.
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Push the button
One of my kids had been seriously pushing my buttons all day, but you know, whatever – you have to choose your battles, right?
As the children crowded around the birthday cake, I saw my (button pushing) kid’s finger slowly reaching out to give the home-made-My-Little-Pony-masterpiece a poke. Of course, I quickly tapped him on the shoulder and said, in my best, I’m-only-saying-this-once-voice, “Don’t even think about touching that cake buddy.”
Then his little face turned around and looked at me square in the eyes, he looked scared and ashamed and hurt – but most of all, he looked like ACTUALLY NOT MY KID AT ALL. Fuck.
You see, my friend has a little boy who looks similar to mine from behind. It’s not a particularly remarkable occurrence – lots of little boys look similar from behind. It’s also not a particularly remarkable resemblance, but it triggered a truly remarkable realisation – one that has gone down as my most eye-opening parenting moment to date.
“I speak to my kids like that all the time without a second thought”
I would never (knowingly) speak to anyone else’s child as rudely, and as I had just spoken to my own (except it wasn’t my own).
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Sure, this was a kid who I had known since well before he was born. His mum is one of my best friends. I have changed his nappy and spoon-fed him. He had his first ever sleepover at our house – his mum moved to Australia as an adult and didn’t have her own family here. I’m like an aunt to him. A cranky, rude, shoulder tapping aunt – apparently.
The fact that this is a child who I am close with meant two things. Firstly; my indiscretion ahem* didn’t trigger an awkward parenting situation. His mum was genuinely stoked I got there before he stuck his grubby finger right in the My Little Pony’s eye. Phew.
More importantly (and devastatingly), this is a little guy that I genuinely love, and the way he looked at me legit ripped me a new one. I was gutted I had spoken to him like that.
But the real issue here is, I speak to my kids like that all the time without a second thought. I genuinely love my kids too – obviously – so why was I giving them less respect than other children?
A pretty gross rut
It just took a quick out of body experience and my son’s doppelganger to show me this.
That ‘mum’ voice I use when we have other kids over for play dates? Not the voice I usually use with my kids.
That calm yet firm tone I spoke in when I was a teacher? Not sure my kids have ever heard it.
Often, when my kids are rude to me I think; I’m sure I never talked to my mum like that.
But also – I’m pretty sure my mum never said, “OH MY GOD WOULD YOU TWO GET OUT OF MY FACE FOR ONE MINUTE SO I CAN FINISH WRITING THIS MESSAGE.”
“It has to stop”
I speak to them rudely, often. And they give it back. We have somehow fallen into a pretty gross rut and this is not how I want my family to roll.
All of a sudden, I’m imagining my adult kids on the receiving end of one of my thoughtless quips. And it’s enough to bring out a cold sweat. I would never talk to adult-them like that.
Well, that just means that at some point it has to stop, and I’m going to go ahead and choose now. Manners, setting an example and speaking to them in a way they deserve are all bloody important priorities. It’s not going to be easy – often the people closest to us get the worst of us, that’s life. But I can try to do better.
It doesn’t mean that the next time I see one of my kids reaching for a fondant masterpiece, I’m just going let them poke away. But I will make sure that whatever leaves my mouth is both firm and doppelganger-friendly.