"Aiden punched me in the cheek," my 4-year-old son declared, after returning home from preschool.
"What happened?" I asked, dropping down to listen. Like the news on TV, he only shared the dramatic parts of the day. "Did he really punch you?"
His little blue eyes were wide in disbelief. "He did. He punched me right in the face."
After a quick inspection of his still-chubby cheeks, I asked, "Why?"
"I was playing and I tried to get past him. He didn't like it so he just punched me!"
That kid is a troublemaker! I thought, mind racing to who I should give an earful; but then I paused and asked, "What did you say when you were trying to get past?"
"I told him to move out of my way."
And there it was. The person I should give an earful was me. Those impatient, selfish, unkind words were mine. My son was following my example. While I preached manners, especially with others and in public, I did not always demonstrate them in the privacy of our home with the two little people who matter most, my son and 2-year-old daughter.
My son is a storyteller, a dreamer and a dawdler. While proud of the first two, the latter often frustrates me to no end. I've been tightly wound my whole life, constantly planning what's next. Therefore, when Luke is standing in the kitchen telling me about the ice cream truck he is going to drive when he grows up and I'm flailing with hot pans trying to get dinner on the table, I bark, "Move out of the way!" No "please, sweetheart," just a loud, rude "Move!"
This also happens when I'm carrying his sister or heavy groceries into the house. I'm tired, frustrated and I feel like I've asked him nicely before. I lose my patience and just yell, "Move!"
That certainly is no way to treat anyone, especially a beautiful, creative young child. I knew it, but it didn't really hit me until my child got punched in the face.
Being a parent includes little eyes and ears constantly observing you. While I know the best way to teach is by example, I can lose track of that, especially when I'm in my getting-something-done mode. I'm so focused on the task at hand, I forget about other people's feelings and that they might be in the middle of something, too.
My first priority right now is raising happy, healthy kids who are caring and kind. So what makes me think getting dinner on the table is more important than teaching them how to treat others with respect?
Because yelling at someone to "Move!" is not going to get them very far in life.
I don't want my children to remember me as mean and rude, and I certainly don't want other children thinking of them that way.
So when I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed, I'll have to take a breath and remember that they're learning at every moment. If I want them to treat others with kindness, I need to pay them that same respect. There are so many things I want to teach my kids; I'd rather not have the thing that leaves a lasting mark be my lack of patience and manners.
Cortney Fries is a freelance writer and Chicago mom of two.
See more of Cortney's stories here.
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