The Ripple Effect
Often neglected as a topic of conversation, I decided to add this chapter to talk about how a mom's mood can potentially impact the tone in the home. Moms set the tone through a variety of ways, such as decor, rules, and expectations, but the biggest impact on tone is her mood. Children tend to "absorb" the mood and energy of their mothers and behave in ways that reflect that mood and energy. That is, if mom feels stressed out, her child may become stress-full and exhibit behaviors reflecting that stress. Understanding this, I direct my attention (and yours) toward another important topic: Power of Choice.
Listen to intro
Debbie, a mother of two, shares this story:
"It happened about a year ago. I was getting ready for a family outing. Although I was excited, I felt stressed to keep on schedule with the other members of my family, particularly my sister, who planned on leaving especially early. I remember racing through the house collecting toys for the car in one hand and juggling my five-month-old in the other hand. The clock was ticking, the baby needed changing, the car had to be packed, and my three-year-old son was demanding attention, begging to be picked up. He wanted juice, his truck, anything that would take me away from what I was trying to accomplish. And I had lots to accomplish. Like most moms, I had a mental checklist of things I wanted to bring and things I had to do before we left the house." [Checklists always take so long to complete, and this one was no exception.]
Debbie continues with the details:
"I knew the tension was mounting, but I was still eager to keep on schedule. I put the baby down in the house and walked out to the car, closing the door behind me so that I could take a quiet moment to look at the car and pack what was necessary. I just wanted to get it done and get going. I left my son inside crying for me, but I wanted to go alone. Well, my son must have been writhing with frustration inside the house. He was alone with the baby and had never ever hurt the baby before so it never occurred to me that he might. But he did. He was hitting her or at least that is what it sounded like from her screaming. I ran into the house and stopped him before he seriously hurt her. He was completely out of control, as was I."
They were all out of control. Anger, fear, helplessness, and frustration had reached an unbearable height and it was being expressed uniquely by each of them. Within minutes, and still full of rage, Debbie grabbed her son and literally tossed him onto his bed. She confessed to hitting him while screaming, “Don’t you ever hit the baby, not ever!” Debbie’s fury not only blinded the irony of her actions (hitting her son while telling him “don’t hit”), but it brought on the guilt that usually follows an incident like this. What’s especially ironic is that Debbie felt more stressed out after hitting her son than she did before this incident, and her son was more desperate than ever for his mother’s attention.
Through similar stories, enough mothers have supported my argument that a mother’s mood invariably affects her children’s mood, and ultimately their behavior. Children are remarkable in their ability to sense their mother’s mood and internalize it. No matter what emotion a mother is feeling, a child can sense it and then reflect it back in subtle or demonstrative ways (e.g., biting, hitting, crying). As an experiment, notice your children’s behavior when you’re feeling anxious, depressed, angry, melancholy, or unresponsive. Notice the mood in the house, whether it’s tense or loud, quiet or chaotic. Now make the conscious decision to put aside your stress and your negative mood. As hard as it is, change. Tell the kids that you don’t want to be in a bad mood and then suggest going out to get an ice cream. Or walk into the room where the children are and play music. Take your child’s hand and begin to dance with him or her. Chase your children and tickle them. Suggest they help you make dinner and have fun doing it. Involve them. In other words, make your children smile in any way that works. And then look again at your children’s behavior. Notice the way they treat each other and you. Observe the changes in mood that occur in the house, the feeling....
I'm wondering what exactly I can do when I'm just really in a bad mood. Between my work online and having the kids home all the time these days, I'm going nuts. It's like too hard to "change my mood." I just want them to chill out and cooperate with me. Usually I try to bribe them with a treat later on if they are good for me during the day. It sounds like this is a mistake?
I know what you mean and I think most moms can relate. These are tough situations for sure. And I wouldn't necessarily say you're making a mistake. I would say that you might want to tune into your voice and how your'e asking and saying things. I would encourage you to pay attention to your body language and adjust your mindset. My guess is that you're waking up every morning expecting the day will be challenging. So, before anything happens, you're already setting the tone. You're setting up the expectation subconsciously that your day is not going to go well and that a bribe will be necessary. Try this: Start your day being intentional. Wake up, smile, stretch, and reach up to the sky. That is, literally open up your body and resist the "story" you've been playing that it's going to be ANOTHER tough day. Instead, tell yourself that you are really good at what you do, you love your kids, that they are good kids, and it's going to be a good day. Engage your kids at breakfast with a happy tone and a smile on your face. Do this for you, first and foremost. This is a way to take care of yourself. Your kids will benefit as as byproduct. Do this consistently, everyday. And you will begin to change the chemistry of your brain and in your body. Intentional practices like these will enhance your life, giving you greater opportunities to capitalize on your power of choice and create different outcomes.