I only have two kids. For some reason, which is totally illogical and ridiculous, I feel like I can’t give my input into parenting until I have three. I probably feel this way because I’ve heard people say that two kids is manageable, but three is insanity. If you can hack the insanity, then you have earned your right to be heard.
Dumb, I know. I know this, theoretically, because one hard child can be the work equivalent of three easy ones. And two middle of the road ones can be just the same amount of work as two easy and a hard one. No matter what the combination I come up with, I disprove myself. But here’s the thing: I’ve learned a lot the last two and a half years. Not as much as some other parents, who could probably come and beef up these ideas, but if I can learn this much, I may as well say some of it.
This is what I remembered last night: my daughter is a person. It’s so easy to get caught up in baby raising theories, especially when they come to sleep. Sleep has been our biggest issue since Micah was born, and I may as well admit it: I threw every theory out because nothing worked with him. Now, as we’re going around this sleep train again, I’m dealing with a bunch of emotions I’d forgotten about. They come rushing up at me at about 11:30, when Norah is crying and I’m laying there next to her, trying to calm her down but instead just feeling angry. I said it. Angry. How dare this child wake up again and expect me to drop everything I’m doing to coddle her! Doesn’t she know I don’t get any time to myself anyway? And why the heck won’t she just stay asleep?!
About this time, I start questioning myself. I get all up in arms about new rules I’m going to implement about sleep.
That’s it! Everyone out of my bed! And don’t touch my hair ever again!
My resolve is strong. These kids need to learn boundaries. They need to put themselves to sleep. They need to stop depending on me for everything. They need…
And I forget that the screaming next to me is coming from a person. I forget that she’s crying for a reason, and that God has placed me in her life for moments exactly like this one. She isn’t a screaming banshee, a loud mouth that’s trying to encroach on my personal time, or a nuisance that wants to be heard in the most grating way possible. She’s a person, and there is something going on in her heart, head, body, or emotions that’s causing her to cry. My daughter has feelings, and what am I doing to shape her in this moment? How am I teaching her, and what am I building into her?
At that moment, I have a choice. I can continue to be angry, and treat her like I’m angry. (Which, by the way, she totally knows I’m angry. She can sense it and she responds to it.) Or I can change my attitude. I can see this as a learning opportunity for both of us. I can build trust into her, showing her security and faithfulness, but also firmness and boundaries. I can love her through a moment when she is driving me crazy. And you know what? She knows that too. She can sense my attitude, and when I’m acting out of frustration, she responds to my frustration. When I’m acting out of love, she responds to my love. She is a person that deserves respect. Just like I do, just like Davy does. Just because she can’t speak and uses screams to convey her emotion doesn’t mean that she deserves less respect than someone who can.
Each tough moment I spend with Norah will teach her something. It’s my job as her mom to make sure she’s coming away with godly character being built into her. It’s my job to run to Jesus every time I’m about to lose it, for grace to deal with my emotions, and for grace to infuse the situation with godly attitudes. When I respond out of frustration, and God knows I do it way more often than I want to, she takes away two things: 1. This is how to respond to this kind of situation. 2. This situation causes a rift in my relationship with mommy.
I know she doesn’t consciously understand these things, but she does sense them because she is a person. I see the same sense in Micah when he does something that is wrong. They learn something internally and something externally – a “me response” and a “them response”. I want them to learn that the “me response”, the internal application is to respond with a godly attitude, not anger or frustration or anything else. And I want them to learn that the “them response” always deals with relationship. We can choose to respond to break or harm relationship, or we can choose to respond to keep relationship, even if that means working through an issue. That other person is a person too, so we need to respect them in our responses, and not just act out of our feelings.
Last night I felt angry, and all I wanted was to watch Psych with Davy. But I had to make a choice, and I, thankfully, chose to invest. I definitely don’t always do this, but last night I chose to fix my attitude and to sow the hard seed. I chose to see my baby as a person with needs and not to let her screams grate my soul. And I chose to pull her closer, to love firmly and decidedly, not letting her get away with what she was trying to do, but showing her an appropriate emotional response. She screamed for an hour and a half. Some would call that a failure on both of our parts, but I see it as a victory. We both learned something from each other, and we’re better for it today.