The other day, the kids and I walked down the street to the park on the corner. A woman was walking her little dog and of course, the girls rushed over to see it. They were down low with the dog, ooohing and ahhing and getting all sorts of wet kisses. I soon found myself bent over, speaking in a high-pitched voice to the dog too.
"Oooohhh! Wook at those widdle ears! Oh, you are the softest widdle guy, aren't you? Boodooboodooboodoo! Ah-Boodooboodooboodoo!!" Why we do turn into blubbering mushpiles when we talk to puppies and babies?
Anyway, in the midst of all the silly puppy talk, I felt my heart sink to my stomach. I realized that I was treating this dog much kinder than I'd been treating my own kids lately. I listened to my tone of voice - as silly as it sounded - and realized that it was much sweeter than the gruff, impatient utterances they'd probably gotten used to.
And I wanted to cry.
In my mind, I want to be the mom with the patient, sing-song voice who never loses her temper, and always talks sweetly to her kids. But I'm not. In fact, I'm a yeller. And I'm impatient. And I say things I later regret. Throwing an occasional "honey" or "sweetie" into demands or reprimands that I'm yelling does not justify my tone.
Now, before you let your imaginations run wild and imagine me yelling all sorts of profanities at my children, I'll stop you. There are things I'd never dream of saying to my kids, or anyone for that matter. I never, ever have told them to "shut up." There are words that are off limits, like "stupid" and "hate." I don't put them down or verbally abuse them. I just don't honor them or encourage them with the words I say or how I say them.
It's not only what I sometimes say, it's the way I say things, that makes me sick to my stomach. And I'm afraid they're going to remember me as a drill sergeant, always telling them what to do. "Clean your room NOW! What's taking you so long? HURRY UP!! Can't you hear me!?!???!?!" (And of course they can hear me, given the fact that I'm usually YELLING these words.)
I talk to my children in tones I wouldn't dream of using on Gary. I'd be ashamed. I'd want to crawl in a hole if my friends heard how I talk to them.
When they do something great, I want to say, "Great job, Emma!" with sincere enthusiasm and joy, instead of my monotone, "Good job, Em." She deserves better than that.
When they do something naughty, I want the patience to breathe deeply and say, "Addie! Pouring water all over the table on purpose is naughty. Please clean it up now." Instead, I find myself too often yelling, "Addie! You are so naughty! Clean it up NOW!!! You make me so mad!" I get choked up even typing that, knowing that's too often the script (and it's sometimes accompanied by an aggravated, guttural, "Arrrggghhh!" - you know the one!).
It kills me to think of all the opportunities I've missed to encourage and edify my kids. I want to meet their enthusiasm with my own enthusiasm. I want to meet their anger with gentle correction and patience.
Addie was throwing a fit the other morning about what to wear. (Starts early, doesn't it?!) After vetoing the fifth outfit I put on her, I started yelling at her, proclaiming that we were going to be late, why couldn't she just make up her mind, doesn't she know I'M in charge... blah, blah, blah! I cringe thinking about what a monster I am sometimes. Emma was sitting there with us and quietly crawled over to my ear and whispered, "Mommy, sometimes you're really hard on Addie. Maybe you should just take a break." Wow. It's amazing what God can say through a five-year-old.
So, I've really been praying about the way I use my voice and my words with my kids. I feel great relief when I hear Emma and Addie playing house with each other, speaking so sweetly to one another and calling each other "sweetie pie" and "cutie bug." I know they're listening to the good stuff. But they're taking in all the bad stuff too.
I've specifically been praying for patience and gentleness with my kids. I don't want to get worked up over every little thing. I have three little hearts to nurture, and I need the tenderness to do it. I've been thinking about Psalm 103:8 which says, "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love." There are days I could peg myself as the complete opposite of that. My yelling and harsh tones and anger bring nothing good to my home. Certainly not the peace and love my family deserves. It also doesn't not bring about the righteous life God desires for me (James 1:19-20). And really, the neighbors don't need to hear it. It's coincidence that a few neighbors have recently put their homes up for sale, right?
When we were little, my parents tape recorded my sisters and I fighting. We laugh now, but when they played it back for us years ago, it was embarrassing. And who am I kidding? It still is. I don't need to tape record myself yelling at my kids or speaking to them in tones I wouldn't use on a dog. I hear myself. And it makes me sick.
I was just trying to figure out how to end this and am sitting here quietly while the girls are watching a show together in the other room. Without prompting and for no reason, Addie just said, "I love you, Emma" in the most sincere, lovable voice you can imagine. So there you have it. I think I'll go hug them and whisper in their ears how much I love them. It won't make up for all the yelling, but it's a start.
Update: I went into the other room as I soon as I posted this to find that Addie had used scissors to cut lines in her shirt. Okay. Breathe... don't yell... breathe...!