It’s hard to believe it now but I used to try and be really nice to my children all the time. They won’t remember. I really did think that’s what you were supposed to do and I can’t believe now that I bought into that stereotype of a good mother and tried to live up to it for so long.
The ideals of perfect motherhood get under your skin, they are guilt-inducing without you really being aware of it: failure, stress and resentment are built in. Being nice, polite, reasonable and calm all the time is an act, no-one’s like that in real life. It’s not something we should aim for either; even as an adult I find it very stressful to be in the company of someone who is unremittingly nice. The subtle emotional obligation to be nice back usually ends up with me blurting out something offensive, inappropriate or just embarrassingly weird – the pressure just gets to me.
Being nice and calm and patient with a child who is being disrespectful to you just makes them worse in my experience and I think I get why. It’s like you’re placing yourself on the moral high ground (‘You may be an ungrateful obnoxious little brat, but look at me in all my lofty superior niceness, I’m not rising to it!’) It’s just irritating.
Families that scream and shout at each other can have a much closer, warmer and more authentic relationship than those who maintain a nice polite facade (underneath which resentment seethes). Not that I’m advocating screaming and shouting, obviously, just some authenticity in our reactions to our kids, because the pressure to be nice can override our common sense. Constant niceness isn’t good for us, eventually we’ll blow.
The trajectory goes like this: nice…nice…nice…explode. Whereas if you start out authentically grumpy, irritated or distracted and speak honestly and directly, you might progress to annoyance or indignance or a ‘Right I’ve had it now! Do as you’re told!’ but you’re less likely to totally blow up and lose it completely. And also, children are like us only more so, they know when we’re playing a role and they will push and push us to become honest and say it like it is.
In the end, children like to know where they stand. They don’t want us to be constantly nice to them, they’d much prefer us to be real.