Months of COVID-induced isolation have only strengthened my 6-year-old’s affinity for whining. If she is hungry, bored, exhausted, or annoyed, I’ll hear about it—in a high-pitched, drawn-out whine. I don’t know how other parents react to this manner of speaking, but even a hint of a whine sends me straight into a level 10 irritability. I tell my kid I’m allergic to that tone of voice, and truly, I can think of no other explanation.
So this morning, when my daughter hit me with one complaint after another about her grandparents’ impending visit, I felt my body brace itself in preparation. There was the whining and with it, my tense muscles and gritted teeth. What could I do but snap?
I am not a perfect parent by any means. I have done and said my fair share of regrettable things. But there is one simple trick that lately has been saving me from letting out the mom-demon within: I ask myself, “Would I be OK if someone treated me or talked to me this way?” If the answer is no, I change course.
Living by this rule—treating my little ones the way I would like to be treated—is such a simple yet impactful approach to parenting. And it doesn’t mean I let my daughters have their way either. Instead, living by this rule reminds me to use kind words, listen to their points of view, and make certain my choices are rooted in understanding, empathy, and respect for them.
So instead of snapping at my 6-year-old this morning, I suppressed an eye-roll and asked her to talk me through what was on her mind. It turns out, she was hesitant to bunk with her little sister and turn her room over to our guests.
Of course, part of me wanted to shut the conversation down with a simple, “This is what we need you to do, and that’s that.” But my better instincts prevailed and reminded me that being treated dismissively feels terrible, and so does having no sense of agency.
Instead of walking away, I tried to really listen to find the worry at the center of my daughter’s complaints. It turns out, she wanted to ensure that, with her room occupied, she would still have a space to retreat to for time by herself. I can relate—especially when there are house guests around! When we came up with an acceptable solution, I could see a sense of relief in my child’s eyes. Not only were we able to come up with a solution we both felt comfortable with, but in inviting my kid to problem-solve with me, I showed her that her feelings and opinions mattered.
Sure, this philosophy is hardly groundbreaking. Each and every one of us likely learned it in kindergarten, but how often do we think to apply these lessons to the hard work of parenting? It takes time to tamp down that little voice inside of us that wants to play the grown-up card and run the show without input from our children. But each time I do, I feel a sense of supreme satisfaction and it’s not just in me—it’s in my girls too. And in my view, that’s something worth pursuing.