THE BLOG
10/08/2014 11:23 am ET Updated Dec 05, 2014

Healing Vigilante: A Crappy Parenting Moment Turned Awesome

Ugh. I just had the third shouting match this week with my 5.375-year-old, Olivia. I am supposed to be the adult and a therapist. I am trying not to go into the C.A.J.E (Criticism, Assumption, Judgment, Evaluation). If I do evaluate it, the only healthy approach is to see how we can all learn and grow (you included).

Here's what is happening. I'm still upset, so this will be organic...

It all started when I cheerfully stated I was going to make her a turkey dog for lunch. She became rude. Apparently, I just ruined her life. I offered up several other options (something my mother would never have done) and she shot them down like a sniper. I started to feel frustrated especially since, recently, she has been extra demanding and sassy and I am determined not to raise an entitled child.

My inner thoughts became outer ones... and I'm not proud:

"You are being disrespectful and mean to mommy! You are saying "no" to EVERYTHING! Say YES to one of them! Be grateful! Geez!"

She yelled back, "I DON'T LIKE ANY OF THAT!"

I was incredulous.

"YOU DON'T LIKE ANYTHING! STOP BACK-TALKING! YOU ARE BEING DISRESPECTFUL!"

She cried and yelled back something childish (go figure). I got even more triggered. I never talked to my parents like that, or else. All skills gone, I became authoritative and threw out an unrealistic consequence.

"WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? YOU WILL EAT EXACTLY WHAT I PUT IN YOUR LUNCH AND IF YOU DON'T -- NO DISNEYLAND!"

What was I thinking? Of course we wouldn't cancel Disneyland! The tickets were expensive and we wanted to go too!

But that's where I was. I was not grounded or rational. I was no longer my adult self. I was one angry child yelling at another. In that moment, I was not more emotionally stable (or smarter) than a kindergartener.

I had a flash of awareness that we needed a break. I told her to sit on the stairs and count to 100. She screamed she wouldn't do it. Awareness gone. Anger back. I was determined to win and brought out the big guns: I threatened to put her in her room alone. She sat on the stairs and started counting angrily.

I knew that was a moment for us to regroup, and should have sat down and counted to 100 too. But I was so upset. Did I mention this happened three mornings just this week? I could not do more of this back talk, sass and power struggle nonsense. I needed to nip it! I needed to make it clear! No entitled children!

My negative thoughts fueled me. I let my triggered, regressed self speak. I yelled that she is nicer to her teachers and other mommies and it hurts my feelings. And when she is disrespectful, it's not OK! I yelled that everything I do is for her! I give her everything she wants: hugs, kisses, sweetness, food, toys, help -- you name it -- and it makes me VERY sad when she is unkind and not thankful.

I felt sorry for myself. I started to cry, from a combination of frustration, disappointment and sadness (for myself, her and the situation).

I noticed she began to listen when I shifted into my hurt and sad voice versus angry. I started to shift too -- back into my adult self. Everything began to soften.

She started apologizing. My heart hurt watching her little mind try to wrap around her overwhelming feelings of guilt and regret. We were in a heap of hugs, wrapped into each other and I thanked her for saying sorry. I told her I was sorry too, I loved her so much, it was a tough moment, and that we could talk about it more later (I needed time to settle and process).

[Processing break]

Okay, I'm back. And clear.

Regardless of how sassy and unruly she acted, I knew one thing for sure: She is learning, mostly from my husband and me, and it is our responsibility to teach her what is healthy. She needs our guidance. We are a sassy, silly and expressive couple, so I know that our children have some of that as well. It is about knowing the boundaries. And all of my graduate level studies say she wouldn't have that dialed in by age 5. Duh.

The rest of the morning was sweet, with both of us showing love with purpose. Throughout the day, I had a talk with my husband. I also checked in with myself to get clear on what was happening and what I needed, which included more physical and emotional support work.

After school, Olivia and I had a sweet, vulnerable mom-daughter chat.

We have a motto in our family: Be kind. I talked about what that means, and the importance of having kindness in our hearts. I told her that sometimes we are going to get upset and will do and say things we don't mean, and that is OK, as long as we learn how to do things better the next time. I empathized that she is just learning, and we are too. I also empowered her by saying that she does know when she is not being kind, and that she can choose differently, like counting to 100, doing some stress relief breaths or asking for help.

When I asked her if she knew what "back talk" or "disrespectful" meant, she tried her best to answer, but genuinely did not know (REALITY CHECK). I told her we would all work as a team and would help each other every day. The first of weekly family meetings begin this week.

I asked her how she felt about all of it, and if she had any questions. She was happy. She liked it all. So did my 3.5-year-old. We did a "Team Clark" cheer.

It was a good moment. Sometimes, we need the crappy ones to get us on the right track.

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