Several weeks ago, I quit being a mom. It was at the end of three very stressful days, my boys were impossible to tame, and I just quit. I told them they could make their own dinner, give themselves a bath, read books to themselves, and go to bed on their own.
The second the words came out of my mouth, I regretted them. My kids starting crying and I was in shock at what I had just said. But my husband was home to witness this and told me I should follow through and see where it would go, and to take notes along the way, because it might end up making a good blog post. So here we are.
My kids are four and seven, too young to be left alone in the house, but old enough where I can leave them alone while I shower. They’re still completely dependent on me to feed them and manage their lives, but have some autonomy and know the difference between good and bad decisions (even though that doesn’t always stop them from making the poor choices).
Dinner and bedtime had been difficult in our house for months. Burping at the table. Complaining about their food. Constant bickering. Being wild during bath. Saying potty words. Wrestling. Rudeness towards each other. At the end of a long day, these things piled up and I eventually just popped!
I told them to pretend I wasn’t there, and I made sure I was never in the same room as them (they didn’t know I was always one room away taking notes and making sure they didn’t hurt themselves). Once they realized I was serious and they got over their initial sadness and shock, they got to work on feeding themselves and putting themselves to bed.
Their independent capabilities and teamwork amazed me. What I started off feeling awful about turned into a learning exercise for them, and a reassuring boost for me. Here is what I observed:
They Worked Together
The same brothers that had been unkind and argumentative to each other immediately saw each other as teammates and worked together. They did not argue once during the evening.
They Made Good Dinner Choices
They surprised me, in a good way, with their dinner choice. They found some pasta in the fridge, heated it in the microwave (I didn’t even know they knew how to use the microwave!), and added butter, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese for flavor. Once they sat down, they realized they didn’t have any fruits or vegetables, so they got up and added that to their dinner. What?!? They had a free pass to eat candy for dinner and they chose pasta, fruits and vegetables! My four year old even ate his vegetables which almost never happens!
They Were Well-Behaved and Respectful
They had a pleasant dinner conversation without getting wild or getting up and down from their seat. At one point, my seven year old even politely reminded his younger brother to please finish chewing before speaking. Who are these kids?!?
They Took on Extra Responsibilities
They fed the dog, and then decided to put her in her crate, because they realized that managing her along with all of their other responsibilities was too much. They cleaned the kitchen, playroom, and their bedrooms, and picked up after themselves throughout the evening.
They Had a Peaceful Bath Time
They drew their own bath, and big brother helped make sure little brother was clean. Instead of wild splashing and tackling in the bathtub, they calmly talked to each other. Which leads me into my next observation:
They Had Pleasant Conversations
Instead of bickering, they had cute little discussions about Hot Wheels and who their favorite cartoon characters are. I was pleasantly surprised to hear them talking about how they need to work on being respectful to Mommy and Daddy, discussing what they should’ve done differently to not end up in this situation, and vowing to say “Yes, ma’am” when Mommy asks them to do something.
Bedtime was Sweet, Calm, and Loving
It was a cold night, so they layered themselves in warm pajamas and grabbed extra blankets. Little brother picked out books and big brother cuddled up to read them to him. They said I love you to each other before bed and then realized they didn’t hug or kiss so they ran back to each other. Once in their own rooms, my seven year old read himself to sleep while my four year old sang himself songs in bed.
At this point, I had tears of joy in my eyes and I just had to go in their rooms to kiss them goodnight and tell them how proud I was of them. While I still regret the reactive way this evening came about, I am glad I did it. They’ve asked me when they can do it again, so I know they enjoyed it, too. There will be a next time, but I will make it an occasion we discuss ahead of time; something that I’m allowing them to do because I’m proud of their independence, and not something they have to do because of bad behavior.
For me, the night gave me the confirmation I needed that I am actually getting through to them! Kids seem to save their worst behavior for their moms, but I learned that they are always watching, listening, and absorbing. This was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a performance review as a mom, and it was exactly the boost of encouragement I needed!