|When I first became a mama, it all seemed so simple...|
My friend Shannon mentioned how we can also compare our children to others, and how there can be a fine line between wanting to encourage them toward excellency and making them feel condemned. This really got me thinking, and is along the lines of a major parenting paradigm shift I've been undergoing the last year or so. If comparing our kids to others, whether by our words or our attitudes, makes them feel condemnation instead of grace, then something is grossly wrong with my approach. It can be so subtle, but can easily run like a strong undercurrent in my relationship with them. This is so far from what I want for them, and yet an honest examination of the way things are reveals that I have done this too much, if not with my words, certainly with my attitude.
One of my children, and if you know me in real life, you will know which one, is a very challenging child. Highly intense, sensitive, active, extremely intelligent, perceptive, persistent, and emotional, are a few words that could be used to describe him. I can see the positives in these traits, but when you put them all together in an immature human, you have an explosive combination that can, and often does, create a lot of stress in our family dynamic. And when this one child takes about 75% of his mama's energy and attention, I begin to struggle with feelings of resentment.
In the early years of his life, I would have used words like "defiant, strong-willed, and stubborn" to describe him. I took popular parenting advice and applied it to him, countering his fierce will with mine, meeting his stubbornness with what I deemed an appropriate consequence, and exercising my "authority". While I knew that each child was unique, I was still swayed by the notion that if you input a + b, you will get the desired result of c. (Something like love + consistent discipline, aka punishment, equals a happy, obedient child.) Sounds easy enough, right?
Fast forward a few years, and something seems to have gone terribly wrong. My child, who is "supposed" to be happy and well adjusted, seems to have a very difficult time making wise choices. There is a lot of what appears to be anger there, and those tantrums that your two year old would only throw two or three times at the most if you dealt with them "the right way"? They still happen with a frequency and intensity that can be frightening at times.
I have looked around at the other kids his age; they don't do this. I've struggled with silent, and sometimes not-so-silent resentment, that we are dealing with things that most kids his age left behind a long time ago. I've compared him, and in doing so, I've condemned. I've communicated to my precious child, not grace, but a deadly message that "you don't measure up", that "you are not what I was hoping for". Of course I've never said those words, and like to think I never would. I haven't even thought them exactly, but I've certainly felt them.
I don't know what is going on with my son, but more and more I'm realizing that the "problem" is not one of merely behavior, and no amount of consequences is going to change him. There is something different in the way he is wired, and he requires a whole lot of love, understanding, and grace. (The love and grace must be super-natural, and we're seeking help on the understanding part. Of course, I think this is what all children require, but he even more so.) I wonder how much the approach we took in the early years worked against him, how much I tore him down instead of built him up. (And here I must remember to let grace wash over me, too. There is no condemnation. There are new mercies every morning. There is healing.)
As I stood, sat, and wrestled my way through church on Sunday, I was flooded with these thoughts. (Yes, sometimes it feels like wrestling, with a baby in arms, and a couple of other kids who seem to want to hang all over me, or roll all over the floor, or something of the sort!) It's liberating to accept that my kids are unique, that the other family over there, the ones whose children sit still? They're just different kids. It's okay, it's even better than okay, to let go of my expectations. Maybe my son needs a small something to fidget with, or a walk outside in the middle of the service. The last thing I want is to make him miserable and resentful of being there, and so I need to do what it takes to help him. Not to change him, not to project my expectations onto him, but to accept who he is, and to help him.
I've thought many times of writing about my son. I think one of the things that has prevented me, apart from not wanting to expose my family's "dirty laundry", is my fear of being judged. I say that, because I've judged so many other parents, especially before I had my own children. "Why doesn't she just do something about him?" I've shared these struggles before and been given plenty of well-meaning advice, much of it consisting of more ways to "discipline". My mama heart knows that is not what is needed here. What "worked" for another child in another family might have been just the thing for them, but there is no formula to apply here. I must stop comparing my spirited child with someone else. It's wrong, and it only damages him and my relationship with him.
Will you pray for us? Will you pray for healing, and wisdom, and grace? Will you pray that I will joyfully accept who my child is, with all that it entails, and be granted love and understanding to build him up, to help him become all he can be?
I share this in the hope that it will encourage some of you as well. May God give us all grace to love our children just as they are. To those of you who "know" what I'm talking about, my heart goes out to you. Hold on to hope, mamas! I can think of a few of my "real life" friends who will know exactly what I'm talking about, and I'm sure there are more of you. Blessings to all...