Another gift we give as balanced parents is having emotion but not parenting out of emotion. Speaking and acting during emotionally charged moments with our kids is almost always a mistake. Our kids are better served by hearing us say something like “I’m going to take a break” or “we both need some space.” Time outs aren’t just for two year olds. They are for kids and adults of all ages. Taking a break is way of creating the space you need as a parent to respond with empathy, respect and wisdom. Parenting out of emotion is a little bit like going grocery shopping on an empty stomach. We almost always end up making impulsive, less than thoughtful decisions that we later regret. Taking a break allow us to step away and to consider if discipline needs to be a part of the equation, and if so, how to do that and let be about instruction and not emotion.
Balancing emotion also means learning to respond (or not respond) while keeping yourself in check. A mom I enjoy and respect shared a story of her middle school son disrespecting her one morning. He woke up grumpy, as is not uncommon with a fourteen year old boy. He snapped at her when she poked her head in his bedroom to remind him that he’d hit snooze four times and they were leaving in 30 minutes whether he was ready or not. He got up, dressed and came into the kitchen. He snapped for the second time about the breakfast options. She reminder her grumpy, sulky son that if he continued to speak disrespectfully to her, she’d leave him at home and he could walk to school that morning. He backed down temporarily, but was obviously simmering below the surface.
On the way to school, he erupted like a volcano. He provoked his sister, barked at his mom from the back seat, and was making threats. His mother reminded him that she had chosen not to change clothes that morning as she was coming home to get ready for an event she had mid-morning. She said “I’m wearing my pajamas and a terry cloth rob. If you speak one more disrespectful word to someone in this car, I’ll remind you that I am confident enough in myself to march into school with you, to find your baseball coach and tell him that you won’t be staying for practice this afternoon, because baseball is an extracurricular activity, something they support in response to his respect of their family and giving him that opportunity.”
Put a point on the scoreboard for Team Mom.
He backed down at the idea of her entering the school building in her pj’s, and searching the hallways for his coach.
Weeks later, he woke again, his body and mind having been kidnapped overnight. Invasion of the body snatchers part two. He conveniently seems to choose the mornings when his dad leaves early for work. He started the day barking orders, making demands and polluting the atmosphere of their home. This day he announced that he wasn’t going to school and no one could make him. His mother responded by saying “you’re right, I can’t make you go to school, but if you aren’t sick, I will call the school and tell them you aren’t. It is an unexcused absence and they may report you as being truant.”
He snapped back with something smartelic like “you’d turn your own son over, wouldn’t you?” She said, “actually if you’re doing something illegal, I would.” He then played a wild card and grabbed her phone. He acted as if he was going to smash it on the floor. She reached to grab his arm and scratched him by accident. He acted as if she’d cut him with a switchblade and began writhing in pain. He started yelling “I’m calling the police on you. I’m going to tell them you hurt me on purpose.”
He ran to grab the house phone and began dialing 911. Everything in her, wanted to grab the phone out of his hand (and pop with him it). She resisted, realizing what grabbing had accomplished moments ago. She simply said “go right ahead and call. I could use the support.”
As the operator was answering and beginning to ask questions, he screamed and slammed down the phone.
This type of desperation signaled inevitably signals the police. Within ten minutes, they had dispatched the police and an officer was knocking on the door. The boy answered the door and the officer inquired if they needed assistance and the boy immediately said “no, everything is fine.” The mom surfaced behind him and said “no, actually it’s not officer. We need your help.”
The boy looked like he might wet himself at this point, and the mom invited the officer in. She retold the story in his presence and asked for guidance. The officer, sensing this was a smart, well intentioned, great mom said “son, sit down and we’re going to talk.”
The next thing she remembers is the police officer yelling and reminding the boy of how a parent could call for something as minor as a teenager refusing to do their homework when asked and could file an unruly petition. The boy was in tears by this point. The mom enjoyed a second cup of coffee.
Identify an activity or a place where you can go when you feel emotionally charged and need some time/space to make more thoughtful parenting decisions.
(Excerpt from Intentional Parenting by Sissy Goff, David Thomas and Melissa Trevathan)