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Eavesdropping: Six Tips for Becoming a Masterful Mom

by Jennifer Degler

I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop. I really wasn’t. But this mom of two young boys was shopping in the same Home Goods section as me, and have you noticed how they jam pack their shelves with random merchandise? You have to stay in one place for several minutes to see it all; hence, I overheard her interacting with her boys.

And I was so impressed.

She was a great mom.

I’ve witnessed some questionable parenting in stores—most of it displayed by me when my kids were young and overtired.

But this mom. She was masterful with her boys. Eavesdrop with me (admit it, it’s kind of fun), and let’s glean tips from a master mom as she shops with two energetic boys for dishes and linens.

The first thing I heard her say was:

“Boys, we are going to buy these really neat folding screen covers to put over the food dishes at the anniversary picnic. (She showed them how the mesh food tents worked). I don’t want you to poke holes in the screens because then bugs will get to the food. The screens keep flies away from food. Do you understand?”

Tip #1: She spoke in a kind but firm voice when instructing her boys.

She didn’t ask them if they wanted to do what she wanted them to do. Instead, she informed them of what she expected from them.

Tip #2: She looked at a potential temptation with little boy eyes.

This Masterful Mom anticipated how tempted her sons would be to play with the mesh food tents. Then she told them why they should resist this natural temptation without harshly judging them for being tempted. This master mom had trained herself to look at things from a kid’s perspective while still thinking ahead like an adult. Kids aren’t good at thinking ahead and imagining the consequences of their actions so they benefit from a mom who can warn them without condemning them.

Next, I heard this interaction with her younger son who looked to be about six-years-old:

“Mom, look at these two pretty glasses! Let’s buy them for the party toast!”

“Son, those are beautiful! But I don’t need to buy glasses today.”

“Can I buy them and save them for when you and Daddy have an anniversary party and I can toast you with them?”

Pause. The mom thought for a moment. What her son had said was so sweet that I was tempted to slip the kid a twenty myself.

“Honey, how much money did you bring with you?”

“Four dollars.”

“Is that enough to buy the glasses?”

“No, they are $10.”

“I’m sorry, honey, but you don’t have enough money to buy them today.”

Pause. The 6-year-old ponders the situation.

“Mommy…do YOU have enough money to buy the glasses?”

Another pause. By this point, I am shamelessly eavesdropping and holding my breath as I waited for her response to this skilled negotiator disguised as a first-grader. Would she give in? Would she lie about how much money she had? Would she finally snap at him? This was better than Netflix!

“Honey, I do have the money, but glasses aren’t on my list today. And you know that I don’t buy what’s not on my list. So, it’s disappointing but we need to put the pretty glasses back on the shelf. Let’s go look for napkins for the party.”

Tip #3: She stuck to her guns without shooting down her son’s spirit.

He pulled on her heartstrings and her purse strings, but she didn’t allow herself to be manipulated by a first-grader into losing her self-control on her spending or her temper.

Tip #4: She paused and thought about how to respond before she opened her mouth.

Your mothering will dramatically improve if you will give yourself the gift of time to think before you respond. In our fast-paced world, it can feel weak to say “let me think about that for a while,” but wisdom bubbles up best from a crockpot, not a microwave.

Tip #5: She directed her son to his wallet when he wanted to buy something he didn’t need.

Children naturally look to our wallets when they both need and/or want an item. A master mom helps her kids understand the difference between wants and needs. So, she buys food, clothing, shelter, medicine—what her children need—out of her own wallet. On holidays and birthdays, she buys toys and other things her children want but don’t really need to survive. The rest of the year, the master mom directs her children to their own wallets when they want something. This teaches discernment, wise purchasing, money management, and self-discipline.

Tip #6: She showed her son where to go next when he didn’t get what he wanted.

Moving on from disappointment is an important life skill. She acknowledged that it was sad to have to put the glasses back on the store shelf instead of into their shopping cart. And then she showed him what to do next: help her look for napkins (which were evidently on her list). Kids are easily overwhelmed by negative emotions, and they benefit from a mom who validates those emotions while also showing them how to move forward instead of pouting or protesting.

As I was waiting to check out, this master mom and her two boys got in line behind me. I couldn’t stop myself from telling her, “I heard you with your boys and I have to tell you that you are an excellent mother.  You handled them so well.” She was surprised (who knew there were spies at Home Goods?), but smiled and said, “Well, thank you. I love being a mom so maybe that’s why.”