My youngest son can be challenging. In fact, I have dedicated entire blog posts to the subject. He is bright, and curious, and highly sensitive, and with that, comes limit-testing, button-pushing, a boat load of crying, and a fair amount of recognizing that I am at my breaking point, and doing one more thing to see what will happen.
But, truth be-told if given the chance, I would not change a thing about him. Not a single thing. Because I know that his tenacity, his ability to feel deeply, and his curiosity about what makes things and people tick, while frustrating now, will all be strengths when he is older—if we both survive his childhood first.
I would, however, change how I respond to him sometimes. I often run out of patience, yell, or punish him, when what he likely needs most is my grace and understanding. Because he is so bright and so articulate, I often forget that he is only 4 … and a kid … and that even the best behaved kids have difficult moments. I do not extend the same leeway to him that I do to my oldest son, forgetting that he, too, may simply be tired or hungry or over-stimulated.
I try to remind myself that I often have little control over what my kids do or say or how they behave at any given moment, and so, their day-to-day actions have little bearing on my success as a parent at any given moment. What I do have control over is how I respond to their behavior right now, and the impact on their behavior—for better or for worse— of how I respond consistently over time is where the true success/failure lies. But, under that premise, to raise good humans, I need to be a good human. And, rather than letting my kids see the worst of me (e.g. little patience, frustrated, no follow through) as I do more often that I would like to admit, I need to work on allowing them more often than not to see the best of me (e.g. nurturing, fun).
To cope with the challenges of parenting my boys so that they can see the best of me, I take a healthy amount of breaks (often at a place I call work, but secretly really enjoy being), spousal support, and some good therapy both formally, and informally with friends… but after a weeklong vacation last week [that was wonderful but involved nonstop togetherness and exhaustion], followed immediately by my spouse being away for 2 days, the perfect storm was created.
On day 1 of vacation, I was so excited to be away with my family and about the prospect of nonstop togetherness, that I promised my boys that as a treat they could both sleep with me (which we hardly do anymore) for the entire 9 days. By day 3, I was over this arrangement, snuck away to the other bed in the room, only to have my youngest son wake up the entire family looking for me that night. By day 5, I was so worn down from his behavior during the day, the lack of a break, and constantly being in close physical proximity, that I had mostly given up on redirecting him. By day 7, I was so exhausted that I began bickering with my kids like I was a child myself. And, on our 8th night of nonstop togetherness, is when all hell officially broke loose.
I took both boys into my bed for story time and the highly coveted opportunity to all sleep together. A continuation of vacation for them, but oh, how I longed for normalcy. However, my youngest son was miserable for no apparent reason, and he was determined (or so it seemed), to have the rest of us feel as he felt. He was whining, tantruming, ignoring directions, and interrupting his brother’s story time by blowing into a toy trumpet (you know, the ones that they sell on the carts at the parade that make the super annoying sound) right next to the book every time I tried to read a sentence. But, by this point, my rational brain was no longer in charge. Although looking back, he was probably tired himself, out of his routine, and likely even a little sick of me as well, in that moment I saw none of that.
I only felt my buttons being pushed. So, I asked him once to stop blowing the trumpet. I explained that it was not nice, and that his brother had listened quietly to his story when it was being read. The next time, I told him firmly to stop and made him aware of the potential consequence of having it taken away. Yet, he persisted. On the third loud squeal of the horn, I grabbed it from him and just started yelling. And, I was loud. And, he got quiet.
I had hit my breaking point, and I yelled until I broke him too.
And then, I saw his little broken face. I saw the tears well up in his big, brown eyes, and the tears began to well up in mine.
I scooped him up, and my arms swallowed him whole. And we both cried.
And my oldest came over, and with one boy nestled under each arm, I said, “I am so sorry. I have no idea what I am doing. I am trying so hard, and some days, I do a good job. But some days I just fail miserably. I wish there was a book that I could read or a class that I could take to teach me how-to be a mom….”
Just as I finished this thought, my oldest started giggling.
My youngest and I looked at him, puzzled.
“You can’t teach someone how to be a mom,” he said in a tone that made it clear that the idea was absurd, “There is no one way to be a mom because all moms are different. And I am really glad that God made you ours.”
“Me too,” my youngest chimed in.
“Me too,” I added.
At last, the wisdom of a child. I appreciate the opportunities to see life through his eyes. His view of the world is clear and simple. And pretty much spot on.
Just as I know that their bad days are not reflective of who they are, they know the same is true for me. They see all the good and all the bad in me, on my best days and my worst, and still love me fiercely, wholly, and are ready to pounce on any one who dare criticize me … even when that critic is me.
So, I am going to press on as the gloriously messy, beautiful disaster of a mom that I am. Some days, will be easy, and I will do a great job. Other days, will be exponentially harder, and I will fail miserably. But I will do it with more love and heart and passion than I have ever done anything in my entire life. Because, I suppose, that everything worth doing in life is hard, especially raising little humans. My little humans. The ones that I was blessed with. And the ones that were blessed with me.