Wow. This is a lot for us, let alone for the kids, right? So much of what we thought would make this particular time in our kids’ lives special is just not possible right now. To make up for it, we parents are doing our best, setting aside our own disappointments and worries to remain calm and positive in the hope of making this totally abnormal situation feel normal for our kids so they can be…kids.
We’re good at this. By the time our kids are tweens and teens, we have this whole happy-face-for-the-kids thing down. We’ve picked up our angry or devastated children after brutal practices, nitpicky exams, and sleepovers gone wrong. We’ve optimistically welcomed our hungry, frustrated, or tired kids home, only to realize they are just plain not having it—or us. We are The Brunt and, frankly, it’s hard duty.
Here’s the thing: Part of what kids need to learn (and preferably soon, before sheetcaking becomes a regular thing for you) is that if they treat someone poorly enough for long enough, eventually that person will not keep showing up with a smile. Unconditional love is real. But unconditional love means that parents are the ultimate backstop, not the ultimate doormat.
I’m not recommending that you give up on educating, sheltering, and feeding the children who live under your roof in the middle of a pandemic because they’re throwing tantrums in your general direction. But it’s going to be a problem if your kids don’t eventually realize that you are a person. And I’m sorry about this—I know you’re going through some stuff of your own—but in addition to being the person your kids are dumping on, you are also the person in charge of teaching them (1) that you are human and (2) what respect for humans means.
So if every time the kids make retching noises at dinner, we hustle back into the kitchen for Round Two instead of acknowledging our actual human feelings, we’re doing a disservice not only to ourselves, but also to our kids. Just like we taught them when they were small, we need to use our words to express how their behavior makes us feel. If you have tweens or teens, toddler talk was a long time ago, so in case you forgot, here’s an example of how it works: “When you [make puking sounds at the delicious miracle dinner I magicked up from pantry scrapings, while simultaneously responding to emails, texts, and calls from work], I feel like [it’s time for you to learn how to make your own grilled cheese].”
Our human children need to learn that lashing out at other humans has consequences. They may (fingers crossed) learn this faster if we consistently create consequences of the sort that put a pause on the stompy, door-slammy proceedings and create an opportunity for everybody to slow down and think. If the consequence happens to give your son or daughter exposure to a new life skill, it’s a bonus all around. For example, if your teen routinely and eye-rollingly expresses the view that you don’t know anything about anything, you might not particularly feel like helping with remote Algebra today. (Life skill bonus: self-directed learning!) Or if everything you do this week is unacceptable in every possible way, you can reasonably predict that your dearest won’t be satisfied with how you wash their clothes, so go ahead and add that to the list of things you won’t be spending your time doing. (Life skill bonus: laundry!)
These consequences may not be well received (i.e., expect some drama, but what else is new). They may not even be effective, especially at first, or even at all until your child’s brain matures enough to grasp the concept that other people (including GASP parents!) are humans. Still, we have to try. We need to calmly and rationally express our feelings—yes, we are allowed to have feelings! Then we need to give our kids the opportunity to reflect on how their behavior impacts others. These things are hard work, but we owe it to our children to teach them to do better, so they can (eventually) get out there and do better, too.