My Sons’ are Learning from My Reactions

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He’s watching my reaction. I realized about half a second into the conversation with the manager at the grocery store bakery as she apologized that his birthday cake was not how we ordered it.

It was clearly not this woman’s fault, despite the fact that the exact same thing happened last year. (Note to self: Find another grocery store from which to order birthday cakes.) I could have been really mad. In my younger years, I probably would have been. But now, he’s watching, and I feel myself take a breath before speaking.

“It’s OK, it happens,” I say out loud, the same thing I often say to my son.

The lady apologized again and said the mistake would be fixed if I just gave her ten minutes. My son asks why we aren’t walking away with his birthday cake, and I reply, “There was a mistake, but they are fixing it.” I stand by the bread aisle and ask him to play I Spy. And we do for several minutes until the bakery woman flags me down. Birthday cake crisis averted.

Some people say I have the patience of a saint. After all, I spend my days with five-year-olds running around my preschool classroom. I am not a saint, but I do know many strategies for staying patient with small children’s emotions while trying to say all the right things to my students. But once school ends and my “teacher hat” is taken off for the day, I’m just a person, and sometimes I don’t always use all of my best practices for my own life or emotions. I get frustrated when things do not go according to my plan, and I want things done right now, not later.

But it’s not just me anymore; he’s watching now, and his little brother is too.

I don’t want my boys to grow up to be the ones who are quick to blame a server or get frustrated on the phone with a customer service line employee. I don’t want them to cause a scene when something doesn’t go their way, or they don’t get exactly what they want. I want them to be the ones to say, “It’s OK, things happen. What’s next?”

I want them to grow up to understand that they are allowed to make mistakes. Mistakes help us grow and learn, and I want them to feel safe making them around me. I want them to become men who give people the benefit of the doubt because, really, most of the time, people deserve it. I want them to be patient with the situations around them and not be quick to overreact. I want them to sometimes take a breath before they speak to someone.

If I want them to be those men one day, I need to be that mom. Not just sometimes but all the time.

All the time. That’s the hard part – realizing they are watching all the time. My words, tone, and body language; they are observers of it all and sometimes it can feel a little daunting.

But isn’t that the theme of motherhood so far? Everything about motherhood can feel a little daunting if you think about it long enough.

Maybe I need to practice what I am trying to model and give myself the benefit of the doubt sometimes, too. I might make mistakes, but it’s OK; things happen, and I will learn and grow from them, too.

And my boys will be watching that, too.


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