Mirror, Mirror: Children as a Reflection

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mom and son wearing matching yellow jacketsMost parents have had one of those moments when your kiddo does or says something and you think, “Hmm, I wonder where she got that from?” Then you realize, it was from you!

Sometimes, this realization can be kind of scary. Kids are always watching. Always listening. They’re very in tune with what’s going on around them. It is eye-opening when you realize you might be the source of some of those less-than-desirable behaviors, the whining, the eye roll, or maybe even the occasional “damnit!” 

I’ve come to understand that the reason I find my four-year-old daughter’s attitude so triggering sometimes is because, in many ways, she’s a little version of myself. She’s stubborn and refuses to accept help, which makes me want to pull my hair out when we’re running late and she insists on putting on her own shoes or buckling herself into her car seat. Lately, she’s become a little more argumentative. When she’s run out of valid points or is losing she will use a phrase I know all too well, “Yeah, well …” with the sassiest of tones.

A different perspective

It can be a real downer when our kids mirror our shortcomings back to us.

Does my daughter like to pretend to be on the phone because she sees me spending too much time on the phone?

Is she reactive because I’m reactive?

I’ve gone down this hole before and I can tell you there’s nothing pleasant on the other side. Focusing on our imperfections and the ways we may be “damaging” our children benefits no one.

The good news is kids are constantly developing. Research has shown that the brain continues to develop years after reaching the age of what we consider “adulthood.”

Kids are a work in progress, but so are we. Our adult brains are malleable too, thanks to neuroplasticity, which is essentially our brain’s ability to be adaptive. Researchers at the University of Utah define it as “the capacity for our brain cells to change in response to our behavior [and] can help us more thoughtfully engage in activities that will contribute to our well-being no matter our age.” Phew – that’s a relief!

Instead of going down the hole and beating myself up over it, I’m trying to take it as a learning opportunity when my daughter reflects a gesture, attitude, or behavior back to me that I’m not so proud of. It is a chance for me to pause when I’m not being my best self and correct or improve upon what she is showing me needs some attention.

I also try to take in these moments with a little bit of gratitude. While I like to think I’m a pretty self-aware person, I have to admit I was taken aback by the realization she’s picking up on some of my bad habits I wasn’t even aware of. For example, scoffing or exhaling “ugh” too often. When she does it to me, it makes me turn my head around so fast it hurts and loudly ask, “EXCUSE ME?!” But it’s thanks to her and a little self-reflection I realize that’s something I need to work on.

Flip the script

Just as our children mirror the “bad,” they also mirror the good. When we focus on that, those moments don’t just feel like parenting wins, they feel like hitting the jackpot.

I have a long list of moments where my daughter does or says something that surprises me, but in the best of ways. The way she tenderly shows affection to her baby sister or when she insists on taking a bug outside back to its home. It isn’t because I sat her down and taught her these things, it’s because she sees me modeling this behavior for her. 

Each night before dinner we take turns as a family sharing something we are grateful for. Recently, she shared that she was grateful for her toys because some kids don’t have toys. She then asked me if I remembered when we took toys to the kids who didn’t have any, referring to different toy drives we donate to around Christmas time. I thought it was odd she would bring this up because it had been months and it isn’t something we talk about. I told her I did remember and she asked if we could do it again soon. 

You can’t sit children down and teach them kindness through explanation. It must be shown. Moments like these reassure me I must be doing something right.

Our kids don’t need us to be perfect. If you have even just a handful of moments like these, know that you are doing just fine, mama, and your kids will be just fine too.

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Eva Morales
Eva lives in WDSM with her husband, Zack, and daughter, Kate (2019). She is a prosecutor with the Polk County Attorney's Office where she handles primarily child welfare cases. Outside of work, Eva enjoys recreating Pinterest recipes that are beyond her level of expertise, trying to find the perfect skincare routine, and buying way more on Amazon than she needs to. Eva shares openly about her experiences involving Zack's deployment, her high-risk pregnancy, Kate's NICU stay, and just about anything else you might care to ask about. She's a big fan of podcasts, personality tests, the Shark VacMop, and ordering her coffee "kid temp" at Starbucks. Connect with her on Instagram @evaateresaa

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