In the past few weeks three different people made similar comments: “I wish I could be as chill as you about my parenting.”
- I was standing at the bottom of the stairs screaming so loud my throat hurt yesterday. I am so NOT chill.
- Did she just insinuate that I’m lazy?
- Oh, Lord. Someone is going to call CPS on me for not paying enough attention to my kids.
- You know… I really am much more relaxed than I used to be.
Let me be the first to say I do not think I have the market on awesome parenting. I have made some monumental mistakes that I truly wish I could go back in time and fix. That said, as kid #1 just turned 18 and became an official “adult” and kid #4 is a big boy in kindergarten, I think it’s fair to say I’ve learned a great deal.
Is my way the only way? The best way? The way you should do it?
Don’t be silly!
You do you. I’m just sharing a piece of my journey, because… you know… words. It’s what I do.
So, rewind to 2002. I was 24 years old and in love with a recently divorced sexy bartender. He introduced me to his two children, ages 2 and 3. One of them growled at me. The other one burst into tears.
Welcome to motherhood.
Over the next few years, I became determined to prove to all the people around me that I was a good mom, or at least as good of a mom as my husband’s ex, who really is a fantastic mother.
I did what I knew.
I gave them food, and told them to clean their plate.
When we were in public I made it understood that they were to be calm and respectful.
At nap-time there was no getting out of bed, and when it was playtime they were to play nicely without ever fighting.
It’s the same rules my mom had for me but, somehow, while she seemed to manage it effortlessly, all those rules turned me into a bit of an ogre.
I heard myself screaming at the children, and I couldn’t seem to keep my voice under control.
I felt like I was constantly badgering them, forcing them to live up to some perfect standard of what a family should be. We fell short of that standard every single day and, as a result, I went to bed every night feeling like a total failure.
Then God and nature threw us a happy curveball and a new baby was on the way.
How was I going to deal with another child? One that was with us 100% of the time instead of 3-5 days a week?
Lord, have mercy.
Shortly after the baby was born in 2004, my son was playing outside, making bad choices; the kind of bad choices that could result in thousands of dollars of damage to our house; the kind of bad choices that could have ended up with glass raining down on my sweet, adorable, good-natured little five year old. I threw open the door, stormed onto the porch, and called his name.
I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that a veil was lifted and I saw, before me, one of the most honestly kind-hearted little humans I’ve ever known more terrified than I had ever seen anyone in my entire life. Literally.
I was shattered into a million pieces.
Who was I, that these extraordinary people God had let into my life lived in terror of me?
My change was not overnight. It’s still happening.
2004 was the time of Dr. Phil, Oprah Winfrey, and The People’s Court. I didn’t work much then, so I often had the TV on as I went about my day.
Over and over, I heard the same themes:
“You are the adult. You can’t afford to lose control.”
“Trust yourself to know what your child needs. Don’t worry so much about the advice of others.”
“Your children are people, too. Give them the grace to learn how to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a safe way.”
The first conscious step I remember taking was to stop screaming. I would talk. I would be firm, if need be, but I would not scream.
If you were paying attention at the beginning, you know that I am still working on that. However, I cut it down A LOT. I would catch myself in mid-sentence and stop talking until I could get my tone under control.
I would kneel down in front of my child and ask them things like, “why are you so upset that I want you to wear this dress?”
To my surprise and delight, when I stopped screaming (or… you know… gave it my honest best shot), my kids stopped screaming, too.
Sometimes they told me things I’d never understood before. “The tag on that dress makes my back itch really bad.” A simple problem to fix. One that did not require WWIII to solve.
When I started to talk WITH my kids, instead of placing my demands on them, the most fantastic thing happened.
I got to know them a little better. I understood that some foods were OK, if presented in the right way. Some had been resisted because they were hard to eat. Cutting them into tiny bites made it easier.
Then the super extra bonus came!
When the kids and I started acting happier and more calm, my husband did, too!
Fast forward to 2016.
My daughter desperately wanted to wear pajama pants to the airport last week, when we went to pick up her father. Pajama pants with an athletic shirt and a fancy scarf. It’s NOT what I would have dressed her in, but in the long term, did it matter one little bit? She was modestly covered. The clothes were appropriate to the weather. I made zero resistance.
My son dances in the grocery store. I don’t mean he wiggles a little. I’m talking about a full-on Michael Jackson Beat-it routine in the canned soup aisle. I remind him to watch for people and applaud him when he takes a bow. Who is he hurting?
My older son wanted to stay up well into the night every night all summer, practicing guitar and writing music. I let him sleep in every morning we didn’t have anywhere to be. In the afternoon he was asked to help out with chores and he never once complained about it. Why did he have to sleep and rise according to my schedule?
I often have conversations that go like this:
“Mama, can I go for a bike ride?”
“How far can I go?”
“Where do you want to go?”
“How about this block and that one?”
“That’s fine. Please don’t cross the highway or go anywhere else without coming home to talk to me about it.”
That’s it. Done deal. If I had said, “Yes, but you can only go here and there,” there would be a huge argument because that’s not where they want to go. Of course, if they wanted to go somewhere I didn’t feel was safe (and there are certainly a few of those places around), I would draw the line, but because I give them freedom to be them – their own people, with their own thoughts, opinions, and desires – the arguments are fewer and further in-between.
Is it all running through the tulips, holding hands, and laughing.
Yesterday I spent five minutes stomping around the house telling them all what a bunch of slobs they are.
Every day I kick myself a little for the times when I am not the mom I aspire to be.
No one is perfect.
But in the past 14 years I have come to realize something important.
Kids are people, too.
Yes. I’m slow. I probably should have figured that out a little faster, but… seriously… we expect kids to go where we tell them to go, eat what we put in front of them, wear what we choose for them to wear, hang out with the people we decide they can hang out with, listen to the lessons we think they need to learn, go to bed when we think they should sleep, and Heaven forbid they ever have a day when they just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. They should be polite and respectful toward us 100% of the time, no matter what.
Now treat an adult that exact same way.
That’s not a life. That’s prison.
Kids need a framework. They need someone to explain in no uncertain terms that biting is not an acceptable solution to an argument and that it is NEVER a good idea to cross the road without looking. They need rules… AND they need freedom to figure out who they are and what their place is, in this big, often scary world.
When I learned to accept the personhood of my children, it became a great deal easier to just chill out. And if someone thinks I’m lazy because I don’t parent like they do, I’d happily let them step into my shoes for a day and see that giving 100% of your heart every day is NEVER easy, no matter what label you slap on your style.
Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?
If we work on our goals together, they may be a little easier to achieve!
Want to REALLY know what my busy typing fingers have been working on lately? Visit my author page for oodles of short stories and all the latest info on the Heaven And Earth Series!