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Author • Speaker • Instigator of Hope


Just brush your damn teeth


March 15, 2023

A true story of rupture and repair

One of my boys had been rude to me on and off all afternoon. To be fair, it was mostly concentrated from 6-8pm. I thought it might boil over when he took the taco shell – the only one I had – OFF MY PLATE even though he doesn’t like or want to eat a taco. Here’s what happened…

I switched my day around to take him on a walk in the afternoon, which is a routine he usually does with his dad, but Dad is out of town. (Don’t I get bonus points for that?!! No, that’s just parenting? Ughhhhh. Fine!)

The walk was good for both of us! We had a nice time enjoying the leaves and fresh air, but the squawking and griping started shortly after. 

Using all my upstairs brain power, I navigated the taco shell theft and return of said taco shell without too much drama. We made it through homework by the skin of our teeth. Time for bed, and no one was listening. All I wanted was for him to brush his teeth.

It’s probably worth noting that battles over brushing teeth are nothing new. I know my general frustration level about this particular task is high, my patience is low after trying every single strategy 1000 times, and I would give away a kidney if I never had to talk about brushing teeth again.

Sometimes it helps to remind myself that this is just a phase. I’m guessing he will eventually brush his teeth without me asking. Or they will rot. Regardless, at some point it is not going to be my problem! (Okay, you could argue it’s not my problem right now, but let’s not go down that rabbit trail.)

The thing is… I know many of you reading this are parenting in situations that are not “just a stage” in the same way that this particular incident might be. So what are we to do?

I gave clear, single step instructions. While I know playfulness is a powerhouse parenting tool, I didn’t have it in me at the moment. I put toothpaste on the electric toothbrush and handed it to him. A white glob dripped on the floor, and he STILL wasn’t brushing his teeth. 

“Turn on your toothbrush!!” I snapped.

“I did!” he snapped back.

I yelled, “That’s not true!” (Real mature, I know.)

He turned on the toothbrush, mumbling something about how I always yell. 

“I have been nothing but patient and you have been rude to me all day!” I erupted.

My blood was boiling. I walked away for a minute so I wouldn’t scream the swear words that were running through my head. I’m pretty sure there was steam coming out of my ears. We still had to navigate getting to bed, and I could barely look at the same kid who had been marveling at a waterfall with me a couple hours earlier. 

I took a few deep breaths. I hugged my oldest as he headed off to bed and tucked in my other son. As a few more minutes passed, the no-win situation filling me with justifiable rage was not feeling quite so big.

I know rage sounds intense, but if I’m honest, that was the feeling. And under that was some fatigue and powerlessness and loneliness and despair. But that’s not my son’s fault.

My yelling wasn’t his fault either.

“I’m sorry I yelled.”

I snuggled him for a minute and didn’t say another word. He hugged me back and said, “I’m sorry I was rude to you today.” I told him it felt good to hear him say that. We brainstormed a bit about why that might be and he said, “I think we were both a little cranky.” 

While I was tempted to emphasize that I was way less cranky than he was, I took the upstairs brain path and said, “Yeah, you’re probably right.” We made a plan for the morning, snuggled a little more, and ended the night at peace.

Lessons learned:

  • Even the best laid plans, the most positive strategies, will not create frustration-free parenting. This job is HARD, especially if you are living in a neurodiverse family or parenting in the aftermath of trauma. You are not alone.
  • No one wants to be the bad kid. I say that all the time, but it’s so much harder for my tired mom brain to believe it when my son’s behavior is rude and challenging. He didn’t wake up wanting to make my life difficult. He is struggling, and it’s time to get some support. I have a call in for an updated OT evaluation to see if we can help him find some better nervous system regulation. There’s no shame in needing help!
  • Moments of rupture and repair are a key part of healthy parenting, of healthy relationships in general, really. Sometimes we fall out of sync in big ways, like I did tonight. Sometimes it’s smaller things, like getting distracted on your phone or making a comment that your teen doesn’t find helpful. As parents, our job is to bring the repair. Not only does it restore peace, but it also helps kids build important connections in their brains!

And if you’re thinking…

Well, he did brush his teeth when you yelled at him. See!! Yelling works.

Even if we see the story as my yelling that finally got him to brush his teeth, which I don’t think it was, I still don’t think it “worked.” If that were my go-to strategy, my apology would be meaningless and we would not have ended the night at peace. Compliance (while delightful for this tired mama) is not the only metric of success. 

We will keep working on brushing teeth. Maybe say a little prayer for me at 7:30pm. In the meantime…

I’m so glad we’re in this together.








Author • Speaker • Instigator of Hope


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