Shame is Not a Useful Parenting Tool

28 02 2012

Little G, as a super-capable 3-year-old, can now dress himself and put on his shoes. This small step on the road to self-sufficiency makes me inordinately happy. I can’t explain it. It’s just one of those fun milestones that show my boy is growing up the way he should.

Sadly, there’s a distinct difference between “can” and “will,” and lately he’s decided it’s just too much work to do these things for himself. Sometimes I can get him to do it (“I guess you’ll just go to grandma’s in your socks, then!”) but since I’m usually running late, I end up breaking down and doing it for him, which annoys me. A LOT.

Today we were getting ready to pick up Big G from school, and Little G dug in his shoeless heels. He was not going to put on his shoes, and nothing would change his mind.

“Really?” I said, “You can’t put on your shoes? Are you a baby?”

“I’m not a baby!” he yelled at me.

“You must be a baby if you won’t put on your shoes.”

“Don’t say that!”

“I guess if you won’t put on your shoes I’ll have to feed you baby food and give you a bottle.”

“Don’t say that!”

“Here, baby. Let me put on your shoes and we’ll go get your brother.”

I put on his shoes and helped him with his sweatshirt. “Okay, baby. Let’s go.”

“I’m not a baby! Don’t say that!”

And then he started crying.

You guys, I felt about six inches tall. So I did the only thing I could: I apologized to my 3-year-old. I told him I was wrong, and that name-calling is never okay and mommy would try harder to be nice. I asked him to forgive me.

“That’s okay, mommy.”

As we drove to pick up Big G, I realized something. The best way to make sure I won’t do something is to use shame as a motivational tool. Want me to lose a few pounds? For the love of all that’s holy, don’t focus on my lack of self-control. Need the house cleaned? Don’t mention what a disaster I am as a housekeeper.

Why on earth would I think my kids are different?

The good news is my kids are different in one big way—they’re quick to forgive.

Weird. It’s like they’re like me…only better. How does that work?



2 responses

28 02 2012

It’s a big person who can apologize — especially to your child.

28 02 2012
Erin Schmidt

ahh btdt, though I think I gave up and just let them go without the shoes, jacket etc.

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