No matter how mad you get at your kids, there are two words that every single mother – even me, Mommy from Mommy Needs A Swear Jar – knows that you just never, ever, under any circumstance, say to your children. Those two words are:
But why? Why can’t we tell our kids to shut up?
Sure, in a perfect world, I’d use every interruption as a teaching opportunity. I would kneel down to my child’s level and put my hand on her shoulder to make a physical connection, and I would patiently explain that I very much want to know what they have to say, but interrupting is rude, and if my precious darling would wait just a few minutes, Mommy will have plenty of time to hear all about the eighteenth rainbow unicorn she’s drawn today. Then she would come back when I’m ready to give her my undivided attention. And then somebody would turn this model of parenting into a Precious Moments tableau.
But I live in the real world where one of my children demands my attention every eight seconds and it’s just not realistic to go through this rigmarole every time one of them wants to share with me a thought or impulse. I genuinely want to hear what they have to say (lies!) but I’ve got stuff to do – 99% of it for them – and I don’t always have time for a more elaborate response. Sometimes they really just need to shut up.
On a typical morning, I sit down at my desk to get shit done. I pay bills, go over the calendar, sign permission slips, call doctors, fill out forms, make menus, plan dinner, and shop on-line (not the fun kind, the kind where you buy toilet paper or crap for people who aren’t grateful). I give my kids a TV show or an activity to keep them busy and they are usually content to watch the idiot-box while I work at my desk.
That is, until I need to make a phone call.
At that moment, all of them are simultaneously overcome with an urgent need to tell me something loudly. I’m hungry. I’m thirsty. I don’t like this show. When will you be done? She’s touching me. This smells weird. Is it my birthday yet? I peed on the couch. None of this breaking news is ever truly urgent, but they roll up and shout it at the side of my face the instant I put the phone to my ear.
Now, bear in mind that I prepare for these calls, because I’m almost invariably calling to bitch somebody out for sucking at their job. I have usually reviewed my emails and notes from the last time I called and I’ve searched the far corners of the Internet for other people who are complaining about the same damn thing. During that time, I work myself up into a furious rage and develop a brilliant tirade that I will unleash upon the Next Available Representative.
But instead of opening with my snarky-barb, I begin by politely asking the Next Available Representative to please hold as I place my hand over the phone and whisper at my progeny to shush! so Mommy can talk to the nice man on the phone. This keeps them at bay for a maximum of thirty seconds before they trickle back towards me and start in again.
By this point I have, at best, gotten halfway through orienting the customer service jackal on what happened the last time I called. Clearly annoyed, I skip the asking and just tell the dude to hold on, cup the phone and, with a clenched jaw, tell my children to be quiet, stop talking and go play. This buys me maybe another minute before somebody wanders back and interrupts me to ask the question that always comes immediately after breakfast: “when will it be lunch time?”
Folks, this situation demands a shut up. It’s an elegant and highly efficient form of communication that lets your kids know they need to stop talking this instant. My kids know what a phone is and how it works. They even answer the damn thing from time to time so they are aware of what’s happening when I hold that gadget to my face. So when they interrupt me anyway they’re really just being dicks.
I used to feel guilty about this tactic, but I am exhausted from coddling my children with language. There is a time, when they’re toddlers, that they need a softer approach. But I don’t think I’m doing them any favors by padding the world for them so that their delicate sensibilities are never exposed to sharp language. There’s keeping your kids safe and secure, and there’s kowtowing to them until they are insufferable brats.
I’ve learned that it’s okay for kids to understand that, at least some of the time, they’re not the center of the universe. It’s okay for them to be rebuked, and feel uncomfortable, when they’ve acted like assholes. The direct approach to communication helps everyone know exactly where they stand because kids will use any and all ambiguities to steam-roll right over you.
I don’t roll out shut up often but, when I do, my kids know to cease speaking immediately unless someone is missing or bleeding. And, for my money, that’s a good skill to have.
Related post: Yes, I Swear At My Kids
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