I was a good mum. I didn’t read parenting books or mummy blogs, but I know I was a good mum. My daughter was well-behaved and polite, and most of all we had fun together. However, after we moved to Greece, she gradually changed and became less easy to handle. I blamed my in-laws for spoiling her (which they do – but she spends about an hour a week in their company, so how much damage can they actually do?) I blamed other kids that she was copying (yes, that happens, but only to a certain extent). But the person who was really at fault was me.
I mentioned how depression affected my relationships before, but I want to go into a little more detail about how it affected my children. They are the most important things in my life and I know how I treat them shapes their character, the way they view themselves, and their future. And I’m afraid I’ve done some terrible damage during the years I was depressed. Like I said, I WAS a good mum, but depression made me angry, resentful, incapable of empathy. Heck, I even blamed the baby for her behaviour – like a three-month-old can ‘behave’. So as it’s confessional time, here is a brutally honest list of the things I did:
- I screamed and shouted at them for every little thing
- I cried in front of them
- I swore at them
- I threatened and bribed them
- I once hit my oldest daughter – in anger
- I told my oldest that she was stupid – on many occasions
- I gave my youngest whatever she wanted to keep her quiet – sometimes
- I was inconsistent (see previous bullet)
I know all parents lose it sometimes. Maybe you’ve done some of the above. Scratch that – OF COURSE you’ve done some of the above, unless you’re Mum of the Year or something. Kids misbehave, kids push our buttons. But I went from being a calm, capable mum to a raging hot mess who did ALL of the above … and my daughter had to deal with that sudden shift. Of course her behaviour changed, because the way she was being treated changed.
Worse, my younger daughter grew up in that environment. She’s prone to tantrums, she’s a little violent, she doesn’t listen. Maybe she would have been that way anyway. Maybe I made her like that.
Even after my depression passed, it took me a while to realise what had happened to the way I was parenting my kids. When I started listening to the things I was saying to them, and comparing them to what the ‘old’ me would have said, I was quite disgusted by my own behaviour. I wouldn’t speak to another adult that way, and what’s more, I wouldn’t treat them like that in front of other people – so obviously I knew what I was doing was wrong.
I had to change everything, turn it around and hope it wasn’t too late. Hope the damage wasn’t irreparable. I want my kids to love me, trust me, feel safe with me, to know it’s OK to tell me (or show me) how they feel. I want us to be a team. You can’t have those things if you respond to your kids with insults and anger.
And FYI, you get more with peace than with anger. I haven’t been smoking what Bob smoked – in fact, it’s just common sense. If I yell and abuse my kids, or course they’re going to either a) get defensive and yell back or b) get upset and start crying like maniacs. If I respond calmly, I’ve got a much greater chance of diffusing the situation (whatever it is) before it gets out of hand.
For example, we were at the doctor’s the other day and my middle daughter (just turned three) dropped the driver’s cab of her plastic truck out of the window onto the ledge below, out of reach. Now, I know how I would have reacted a year or two ago. I would have hissed at her that she was stupid, that we never EVER drop things out of a window – how dumb are you? I would have tried to get the cab back, even though I knew I couldn’t reach it, embarrassing myself in the process, because I would be so desperate to avoid a tantrum. Then she would have a tantrum anyway, embarrassing me still further, which I would eventually stop by means of bribery because I just needed everyone to stop staring and judging me.
But what actually happened was that I showed her empathy without blaming her (Oh no, you dropped a piece of your truck!) Then I picked her up in my arms and quietly told her we shouldn’t drop things out of the window because they could get broken or lost, like her truck, or they could fall and hurt somebody below. When I told her that I couldn’t reach the piece, she screwed up her face ready to cry, but I took her on my lap and told her that we could make a new one. I asked her questions to divert her attention (what colour was the cab? what colour was the roof? who shall we have driving our truck?) When I asked her the last one, she grinned. “Me!” No tantrum, no embarrassment, no stress. Win.
Of course, I’m by no means a perfect mother now (not going to be in the running for that Mum of the Year award any time soon!) I still lose my rag because sometimes my kids just take it too damn far. But I’m not a raging ball of anger either, projecting my negative feelings at those tiny targets who – no matter how they’re behaving at that moment – just want to be loved.
I am a good mum.