Mom’s smile

The other day several children were in limit-testing moods, relentlessly so. By the end of the day I was in a less than cordial mood. One of the limit-testers, unhappy over lost privileges, accused me of being mean. She seemed oblivious that her behavior was directly responsible for my current lack of good humor. She wasn’t the only clueless one. Several others of the 13-and-under set seemed unaware that other childrens’ misbehavior might leave me less gracious about their own shenanigans, especially at the end of a long day.

I wondered if there was a way to demonstrate just how much their disobedience drained my patience. The next morning, after doing some thinking, I drew a frowning face on sheet of paper. I covered the frowning mouth with a clear strip of packing tape. Then on another smaller piece of paper, I drew a smiling mouth. In the smiling mouth I made about 30 vertical cuts, very close together, so that the sheet of paper on which the mouth was drawn was only held together by a thin margin of intact paper at the top edge. Then I taped the smiling mouth over the top of the frowning mouth.

At breakfast that morning, I explained to the kids the way they were working together to wear me out. I showed them the smiling face. “Today, every time a kid does something obnoxious– whether it be sassing me, or doing a job badly, or teasing a sibling–I’ll tell you to tear a strip off the smile. I’m not a mean mom. But when you all work together to disobey, you make my smile go away. And the more you disobey, the more likely you are to get a cranky answer instead of a smiling one.”

The kids eyed the face soberly as I put it up on the fridge. That morning, I didn’t deliberately nitpick about their behavior. But I did note each incidence of ‘attitude’, slow obedience, or unkindness, and sent the offending child to the fridge to tear off a strip.

My 4 and 6 year old girls were most disturbed by the visual as the day wore on and my ‘smile’ gradually faded away, uncovering the frown beneath. At one point my 4 year old gave me a hug, and said she was sorry that my smile was coming off. By late afternoon, less than half of the strips remained, which meant that in 7 hours time, I had already addressed at least a dozen issues.

Though most of the issues were not huge, it was no surprise to ME that I was feeling less than cheery. But I think that some of my kids truly hadn’t been aware of the number of issues I face in a day, and the way that even ‘little’ disobediences take their toll on my mood. All the kids seemed to take the lesson to heart, and they seemed to be weighing their actions more carefully than usual.

I only did that exercise one day, but I’m keeping the face tacked to the side of my fridge, to be convenient if I need to use it again. It also serves as a reminder to my kids that mom does have limits, and that the better you treat her, the happier she will be.


  1. What a fabulous way of getting them to understand…I’m going to be sharing your idea with my homeschool group. I think they’ll agree with me that it is fantastic…

  2. That is excellent! What a great visual to help them understand.

  3. That’s cool!

    Do you mind if I steal your idea? I don’t have as many as you do, but if each of my six children act up five times in a day that’s thirty instances! It definitely wears on a person.

  4. thanks for the idea. I think it’s a great visual for children. I can see this working well in a classroom for special education students too.

  5. That’s a really cool visual for your kids – and I’m glad they ‘got’ it! 🙂

  6. What a superb idea, Mary! I am going to tell my teacher friends about this too. It may well help them!

  7. YOU are probably the most creative Mother I’ve ever known. I would never have come up with that! Good job Mom!!

  8. multi-taskingmom says:

    I LOVE this idea! I am going to try it here. You are very creative!

  9. Love it, love it, love it. With four kids in the house now, I’ve got to use this!

  10. What a brilliant idea!! I’m totally doing this Monday (or Tuesday, depending on when we get home)!! Thanks so much for sharing it.
    While we have a responsibility to make right decisions, my kids don’t seem to understand A)How hard they make it when they continually do things B)How often it’s happening in a day.

    Great idea!

  11. This was a great idea…thank you for sharing. I have a seven year old arguer and I think this may really help her see just how often she works to turn every request, comment etc. into an argument. We were just talking about how her behavior and reactions influence how people feel about having her around. I think this may be just the ticket to help her really see how difficult she makes things on a daily basis.
    Thanks again!

  12. Great idea!

  13. what a great idea! i fear how quickly the smile would fade just with my 3 year old!!? so creative mary!!

  14. the Zookeeper says:

    Now that is awesome!! I think that I would like to try that one day. I only have 5 and the youngest two are 3 and 1 but the older three… they would get this! thank you for sharing! I hope your smile lasts longer and longer each day!

  15. Love it!!!

  16. Genius!

  17. I’m using that. What a great visual.

  18. I think this is inspired!

    Definitely going to give it a go with my kids.

  19. Brava! Brilliant idea! I’m gonna definitely give this one a go!

  20. Very clever.

  21. What a great, great idea! I’m putting that one away for when my Little One gets bigger. Thanks!

  22. That is the best idea! Because it puts them in the know. And the fact that you made them tear off the strip is even better. I just might have to try this!

  23. what a great idea, my kids too have no idea why I am so grumpy by the end of the day. It might not even be them, but the combination of everything wears you down after awhile.

  24. Brilliant!

    I am pretty sure that my smile would quickly diappear if I combined all four children’s offenses. I don’t think that the under 7 crowd in my home would “get it” yet, but I may ave to try this in a year or two.

  25. It’s such a clever idea you’ve had. I am constantly trying to express the same things to my children and somehow I always end up feeling like Charlie Brown’s teacher (you know, like all they are hearing is’ “Waaah, wahhh wuh.”) I think this tool will really help. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  26. Way to go mum, what a fabulous yet simple and effective way to communicate with them what is happening.
    Simple enough for all ages to understand.
    Thanks for sharing. Hope today goes better. Keep smiling

  27. What a fabulous idea!! I’m borrowing it.

  28. That is such a good idea. It’s a perfect visual for what we moms go through. I hope you don’t mind if I make one for our family.

  29. Tenntrace says:

    Wow! I am definitely going to use this – the 15 year old and 9 year old will get this! We’ve told them for years that their actions affect others and this will be a great visual.

  30. Visuals are so helpful in parenting… thanks for this great idea. I once kept a pocket tally of how many times I failed to be kind in a day. It was very, very convicting.

    Our sin is so far reaching, which makes God’s ‘smile’ (through Jesus) so amazing.

  31. What a great idea! I am going to try this with my kids this week.

  32. Multi-taskingmom says:

    Had to post again. I tried this yesterday with my kids (all but the 3 yr old) and guess what? My smile is still there. Nobody wanted to be the first one to “rip” Mommy’s smile. We had a great day with everybody doing everything the first time asked. I’m leaving this on the fridge for a while. 🙂

  33. I agree. I’m trying it this week to see what progress we might make. I’m really tired of being grumpy mom.

  34. Awesome idea, Mary! Wow!
    I might borrow this one too. [:-)

  35. Another Kudo! I am linking to your post today to share with friends, family and special teachers in our life.

  36. Excellent visualization.
    This exercise may be coming soon to our house.

  37. Good Idea! I think visual reminders are excellent.

  38. Mary – you are a genuis. This is a totally fabulous idea. I will be borrowing it tomorrow, when my limit-tester is home from school.

  39. Brilliant!

  40. Great idea! I’m going to try it out. Today I was attempting to play some Beethoven I haven’t touched in 10 years and told my 3 year old to not play the upper keys while I was playing. She smirked and put her finger on a key to see what I’d do. Aagh! Always testing, testing, testing.
    I sent her to her room, but I’m interested to see if a visual will help cut down these behaviors more. I guess you could also do the opposite– have a happy face underneath– so they could get rewarded for good behavior.

  41. What a brilliant idea! I am only dealing with a three year old, and there are really times when she stretches my patience to the limits. I better try doing this visual here.

  42. What a brilliant idea! I love that it really assigns a certain amount of humanity to you that we sometimes forget exists within our superhero mothers.

  43. Sara- We’re ALL human!!!! And none of us are superheros, esp not me!

  44. oh brilliant

  45. That is such an awesome idea!! Totally love it!

  46. Ah, Mary! You are brilliant!
    That is a fabulous idea.

  47. What an inspired idea! I also have days like that, even though I only have 3 (and sometimes 4) kids. Yes, they don’t seem to realize that their misbehavior can lead to Grumpy Mommy Syndrome, even though I’ve tried to explain it to them verbally. There’s nothing like a visual! 🙂

  48. I love, love, love this! My girls and 4 and 6…I think they’ll ‘get it.’ Thanks bunches!

  49. Ah, you are brilliant. I am sooo doing this. Some days, the teens are more trying than the 4 & 7 yr olds. I think they all will benefit from this one!


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