It isn’t Personal

For the first time in a long time, my kitchen floor was clean. Swept and mopped, it gleamed in the afternoon sun that filtered through the window above the sink. It was a good feeling. I’d worked hard cleaning the kitchen and scrubbing the floors all morning.

And then Henry wanted a glass of orange juice.

Except, he didn’t tell ME he wanted orange juice, he just went into the kitchen and poured himself a glass. Did I mention that Henry is 4? Of course, it only took a moment for there to be sticky orange juice all over the counter, dripping down the cabinets and all over my freshly mopped floor.

Oh, how I wanted to scream. I wanted to say, “Henry! What were you thinking? Do you KNOW how long it took me to mop this floor? Do you know how long it’s going to take me to clean this up?”

I wanted to make his mess about me. Surely he poured orange juice on the floor on purpose. Because he likes to see me clean house. He likes to make my life more difficult.

Or maybe, he’s just 4 years old and he simply wanted a glass of juice. And getting his juice on his own? What better way to make his Mom proud.

When Jordan, at 4 years old, emptied an entire bottle of shampoo into his bath water, it wasn’t because he wanted to make me angry or waste his father’s hard earned money. Rather it was a moment of carelessness, a simple issue of curiosity and a lack of impulse control.

It wasn’t personal.

It’s hard not to take things personally though, when we, the Mothers are the ones left to pick up the pieces or clean up the mess; when our feelings often are ignored or trampled by our kids. But most of the time, especially with young children, it simply isn’t personal.

The danger in making our children’s mistakes and misdeeds about us is in the subtle, yet powerful shift that it causes in the sense of responsibility our children feel. When an innocent mistake is suddenly a cause for Mommy to be very unhappy (Are you trying to make my life more difficult? Do you like to see me clean the same mess up over and over?), our children feel a burden of responsibility for our happiness that simply isn’t fair.

Sometimes, kids spill. Sometimes they break things, or make messes or make really stupid decisions. They are careless, impulsive, they don’t always think consequences through. But it isn’t because they like to make their parents’ lives more difficult. It’s because they are children – children that will only learn to be responsible and careful if they are taught to be so, and then given sufficient time to develop the skill.

Once when Sam couldn’t find his swimsuit, he dumped two baskets of clean, folded laundry on the floor to find it. Clean laundry… on my dirty floor. In the moment, I was sure his actions were a calculated attack on my sanity. After all, I had been folding laundry all morning. And there is nothing in the world LESS fun than folding laundry. I took a deep breath, and choked the words, “Do you think I LIKE folding laundry all day?!” back down my throat, and called Sam over to the laundry basket, where we sat together and refolded all that was on the floor and talked about being respectful and thinking about what our actions mean to other people. It doesn’t always happen so smoothly. But I’m making a better effort, as of late, to fight the urge to toss around blame placing sarcasm at my children.

It wouldn’t do to laugh off these moments, to defer to the old adage, “kids will be kids.” We must seize teaching moments when they occur, encourage responsibility and consequence.

But we can’t take it personally. If there is anything that is generally universal, it’s the undying affection that a young child has for his mother. Kids don’t make us miserable, give us more work, or irritate our sensitivities on purpose. And when we take it personally, and curse/cry/scream/yell and blame our children for ruining our morning/day/life, all our kids see is that we are unhappy, and it’s their fault. And that’s a burden no child should have to carry.

14 thoughts on “It isn’t Personal

  1. Sue Anne Thompson says:

    Greeting Jenny Good ideas in your message for us to attend to in our daily interactions. The idea of "not personal" carries over, of course, to our relationship with spouse, extended family and just plain humanity. Generally, things that we could take as a personal attack are not even remotely intended as such–they are just mistakes not done on purpose. Thanks for taking time to present useful thoughts and ideas.

  2. fairmouquette says:

    Jenny,First off, I am a major fan of your blog…many times I have read it after having a rough day with my kids and thought "Yay, I'm not alone…and she survived with so much more grace than I". You're an inspiration! :)I am so glad you wrote this post. It is something I struggle with daily. I have 3 kids, 4 years, 17 months, and 2 months. I find myself making it all about me on a regular basis…I will be trying harder to bite my tongue and find those teaching moments…

  3. Laree says:

    If sarcasm translated through the internet better, I'd complain about how you always kick my rear end into gear and make me realize how far off my attitude gets on a daily basis with my kids.Instead, I'll just tell you thank you for helping my perspective today!

  4. Melanie Jacobson says:

    I can't believe I've never thought about this before. I definitely need to quit taking my oldest son's grades so personally. But it's SO hard when I spend so much time trying to help him succeed. Sigh.

  5. Lara says:

    I absolutely love this, Jenny.In a book I've been reading she talks about how we should rejoice when our children do something wrong because that gives us the opportunity to teach them. We should look forward to these moments.And, put that way, I suppose we should. It sure is hard to swallow the anger/annoyance/frustration first, though!

  6. Cindy says:

    This is really lovely, and I agree with Sue Ann that we would all do better to extrapolate this to our interactions with everyone. Most of us are just doing the best we can most of the time…as messy as that might appear!

  7. Dee, Las Vegas says:

    WOW, did I ever need THIS reminder. Thank you so much for this post – I got very angry and yelled at my daughter for "washing" a few cups in the bathroom sink with my eye makeup remover – using the whole bottle. I didn't stop and think what my poor baby felt when I yelled at her, asking her didn't she know better? Didn't she think that these things cost money? Did I mention that she's four? Oy. I owe my little an apology. Thank you again, for sharing your words and putting my head on straight.

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