Maria and Mario have never been shy about their feelings. If I upset Maria, she stomps away, sighing heavily, and usually blurting out some mean-spirited comment like “I don’t like you, Mom!” If I upset Mario, he points his finger at me, crunches up his face until he looks like a 90-year-old man, and yells “No, mom, get away from me – I am mad!”
I teeter on the edge with my response to these blow-ups. Do I tell them that they may not yell at me when I sometimes yell at them and when they are, after all, part Italian (us Germans have no problem with anger management!)? Do I allow them to yell but not make mean comments? Do I let them get it all out and then ignore them until they calm down?
I err on the side of letting them vent but then I think about when they grow up and Maria is 30 years old in the corporate conference center yelling at the top of her lungs at her staff because they got her a coffee with three sugars instead of four or Mario playing in the finals of the World Cup and starting a brawl with an opposing team member because he made a snide comment about Mario’s girlfriend while running down the field. But is there a better result if I shut them up from the beginning? A heart attack from too much anger build-up? Fear of speaking their mind?
I remember the “pre-kids” time of my life when I would be talking with friends who had their own children. I spouted out all sorts of advice to their dilemmas: “I would smack their butt and put them in the corner; I would make them take a time-out for 15 minutes; I would take away a favorite toy: I would never let them talk to me that way.” Oh yeah, that is a good one. As if we have any control over that last one. But what did I know? It is not until those little munchballs arrive into your circle of life that you realize that all the advice and pre-conceived notions you had about motherhood and children was ridiculously naive.
Just like I believe that it is impossible for me to understand the pain and exhilaration a triathlete must feel at the end of a competition, it is impossible to step into the shoes of a mom until you become one yourself. You second guess all of the “sure-fire” advice you gave to your mom-friends in the past. You worry about nearly every decision you make.
So, in the end, I don’t think there is any “right” answer on how to deal with these “attitude” problems besides go with my intuition at the time of the incident and not doubt myself for the next five hours. One thing I know for sure: Maria and Mario are happy kids. They enjoy life. They feel. Surely, they get mad, sad, and disappointed, and they express it. But they also, much more often, get excited, delirious, and captivated, and seeing them fully expressive in those states comforts me with the thought that I am doing something right.