Belittling Our Children. A Wise Idea or Stupid Parenting?
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February 16, 2016


A few years ago, I was sitting in church and the speaker, a young mom, gave a talk about one of her children's inability to keep a clean room, pick up after herself or generally listen to any parental instructions. 

This behavior was driving mom insane. Her other young child was having a problem with lying about everything and she couldn't trust him. Her other klutzy child recently spilled Cheerios all over the kitchen floor and she just wanted to SCREAM at her. 

She tried to make these stories sound funny. Hahahaha. Others in the congregation joined her in laughing. I was stunned. Looking around the chapel, I was clearly not the only one uncomfortable. Her children were sitting with their father and several other siblings a few pews from me. They weren't laughing-- they looked totally humiliated. I was baffled at how she could use her young children as a public example of everything wrong in her life. Was this breeding love and trust among her kids or... hatred maybe? Distrust, anger.

This woman, I've noticed all too frequently over the years, is not the only one who finds it perfectly acceptable to badmouth her children in front of them. I mean, I think every single one of us moms have needed an opportunity to vent frustrations BUT, I would hope, we try to do it in private. 

A friend of mine vents to me about her children while she's driving. Several times, the child she was venting about was in the car and we were on speaker phone.

Another friend has a son and she is so verbally mean to him that I'm left speechless. She puts him down,saying things like, "Maybe if you were responsible enough to get your homework turned in, you wouldn't be failing." and "I was responsible when I was a teen; you are the most irresponsible child I've ever known." When she's really mean, she laughs it off. Her son isn't laughing with her. Having known this friend for years, I know she doesn't realize what she is doing. Her son is sullen and quiet much of the time and who can blame him. He is likely afraid of opening his mouth at all because his mother might find another reason to chastise him in front of company. One day, I had to say something.

"Jamie, I would hate for anyone to speak to me the way you talk to Sam," I said.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"You know the golden rule: If you have nothing nice to say, don't say it at all." And I left it at that.

She was silent. "I had no idea. That really hurts, Lizzy," she said.

I wanted to scream at her: What I said hurts? What about the things you say to Sam? Instead, I changed the subject.

One mother I know (she happens to be a family member of my ex-husband's), totally humiliated her son at a family gathering. We were all sitting around the table for a St. Patrick's day dinner at Rob's parent's house. Mom, who'd happened to have a few too many drinks and, Lord knows, probably many pills, too, called "Sonny" stupid, inconsiderate, lazy and, basically, worthless. I wanted to crawl under the table, it was embarrassing for everyone there.

Actually, I wanted to fly across the table and choke her. Later that afternoon, Rob's mom came to me and tried to apologize for Mom. "Sonny is a good boy, I don't want you to think badly of him," she said. Badly of Sonny? How about I think Mom is a horrible tyrant who should learn to keep her Big Fat Mouth shut. I said nothing. Many months later we were all on vacation and Mom told my father that Sonny had recently hit her. She was distraught, crying to my dad that she didn't know what to do. When my dad told me the story, I wasn't surprised a bit. Sonny was a very big, powerful boy. This was a really bad scenario.

One thing that I heave learned from my own children is this: They deserve as much respect, consideration and trust from us as we expect from them. They watch how we behave and they imitate us. And, even more, they watch carefully how we treat them. How can we expect our children to be honest, if when they tell us something hard, we hurt them by punishing them, yelling, screaming, hitting, and humiliating them? How likely, do you think, is it that they'll want to tell us the truth in the future? Perhaps they'll learn to lie better the next time.

How can we expect our children to respect us if we show them contempt? If we ridicule them when they make a mistake, or we "force" them to apologize, how sincere will their behavior ever be? And when they get older, disrespectful children become disrespectful BIG children and adults. They won't just behave disrespectfully towards their moms, but they'll behave that same way to their future partners, friends, employers, and children.

If we want our children to trust us, we have to be trustworthy parents. I've learned this one the hard way. My oldest daughter told me something in confidence and I told my parents. It got back to my daughter that I had told them. She was devastated and angry with me. I will never do that again. I need to trust my daughter and the only way I can earn that trust is to be a trustworthy mom. I now keep her secrets. If she is sharing something with me, it goes nowhere and it is shared with no one else but the two of us. (Obviously, if there are any allegations of illegal activity or abuse, this is an exception.) It has taken time and effort but, I believe, she truly trusts me these days and you know what? I've earned it.

We parents should expect no better behavior from our children than we display ourselves. If we expect kind, trustworthy, honest, hardworking, good kids, we better be that same person ourselves. If we aren't, we shouldn't be a tiny bit surprised that our children are becoming just like us.

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