I begin this post with a disclaimer: I’m exploring an idea here, not telling you how to parent. God chose you to be your children’s parent, and you are better suited to make your own parenting choices than I am to make them for you.
It seems to me that the day I decide to crack down on an unwanted behavior in one of my children, the plan completely blows up in my face. Like this week when I decided that I would not be patient with Norah’s 45-minute-fall-asleep time for her nap and that she would be in trouble for keeping herself awake by singing. She did get in trouble, and we went back and forth, with lots of crying, for almost two hours. Well, of course, it just so happened it was this same afternoon that she had an allergic reaction to a medicine and broke out in angry hives all over her body. Good one, mom. Good timing!
Or last night when Micah woke up and started coughing the most forced, fake cough I’ve ever heard and wanted medicine. Grumpy Beast Mommy wanted to tell him to get over himself, but Kind Hearted Daddy had compassion and coddled him. I even yelled to Davy as he walked down the hall, “He’s faking it! Don’t give in!” And guess what? Yup, Micah turned out to be genuinely sick this morning.
Kind Hearted Daddy: 30 Million.
Grumpy Beast Mommy: 0.
There seems to be this uncanny timing in my family when I get fed up with their behavior. I’ve had enough, and I’m not going to have patience with it anymore. We will stop whatever it is cold turkey. You will not do this thing anymore. We are cracking down! I will not listen to any excuses!
And at that very, exact moment , we hit a point where it becomes vital that I actually stop and listen to them.
Micah’s stalling at obeying is actually because he’s having a serious emotional need right now.
Norah’s clinging to my leg while I’m cooking dinner is because she’s been trying to tell me she loves me for 15 minutes and I haven’t stopped to hear her.
Norah gets out of bed again because she really needs to go potty and can’t get up there on her own. Even though I took her 10 minutes ago, this bathroom break is genuine.
Micah won’t let me throw anything away because he’s struggling with a new found sense of sentimentalism and attachment and can’t imagine life without every single drawing he’s ever done of a monster truck.
Both kids pick at their vegetables because they are coming to terms with textures and learning to express their likes and dislikes in a safe environment.
All of these actions are triggers for drive-me-crazy behaviors that I want to just get rid of. At these moments, I am one track minded: you will change this behavior or I will give you trouble!
Just stop getting out of bed!
Just throw away unnecessary junk!
Just eat your vegetables!
And my kids are thinking, “Just listen to me!”
I find that trying to parent so cut and dry never works for me because neither me nor my kids are cut and dry. We are messy balls of emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental needs, often unable to express ourselves the way we should, but still needing love and patience and tenderness in the moment. If I take a step back and see the progression of my frustration over these behaviors, I can often see it littered with emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual cues from my kids saying, “Mommy, I have a need here that I can’t deal with on my own. Please help me walk through it.” Usually when I hit that frustration peak it’s because I ignored (purposefully or accidentally) those cues. My kids are not intentionally trying to be annoying, manipulative, or plain old frustrating. They are working through gigantic developmental steps; steps that often can’t be navigated on their own. When I “crack down” and want immediate change in them, I isolate them to work through those issues alone.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some things a child has to work through on their own in order to internalize them and change, especially as they get older. And there are times when I have to be stern and firm to teach them important truths about life. Like, I can’t let Norah control our entire afternoon because she wants to sing to herself instead of nap. But my approach is what I’m exploring in this post. Yes, behaviors have to change. I can’t coddle my kids just because they don’t like something or don’t want to do something. But I can train them gently, prodding them up this mountain of emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental development; I don’t have to get fed up and tell them, “Meet me at the top when you have this one figured out.” Knowing my kids, they’d make a camp down at the bottom and yell to me until I came back down.
I guess through this verbal exploration, I’m telling myself that it’s ok. It’s ok to give myself and my children that grace and time we need to work through issues. It’s ok to see slow progress, as long as we’re working toward the goal together. It’s ok to make dinner late because I stopped to hear my kids out, or to deal with a later bedtime because my child needs me. It’s ok because parenting is not about creating perfect little people as fast as I can so I never have to deal with their “stuff” anymore; it’s about coming alongside them to walk them through this learning curve, teaching each other and growing together, cultivating relationship and trust. It’s ok to feel frustrated with lack of progress and want to give up sometimes because it’s not just about their progress, it’s also about mine. And these rocky places are the opportunities I get to work on my character.
I’m trying to remember that my urge to “crack down” on a behavior is really my own internal cue. On one hand, it’s a cue that I’ve missed some important trigger in my child that I need to investigate. I need to meet them there and walk them through something. On the other hand, it’s a cue that my character is coming to a stretching point. When I’ve reached my max, I need to seek Jesus for stronger muscles in that area. I haven’t reached the top of this development mountain either, and the growth, stretching, and sometimes heaving and crawling is part of how we get to the top. I’m reminding myself to take a deep breath, reach one hand back to my kids, and reach the other hand up to Jesus. With His strength, we can a work our way to the top together.