I’ve struggled to learn the dance of motherhood, wifehood… lifehood. All of it. It’s all hard. So much broken. So much refining. So much fighting, and in all the ways you can think of. The learning curve has been steep, and even still continues its upward slant into the endless atmosphere of infinity. Is there ever a point at which everything in life becomes smooth sailing? Absolutely! The moment after death.
For about the past nine months or so as my four- almost five- year old son had been growing into his personality, our relationship had turned volatile. But I don’t mean physically violent. I mean the train wreck kind of head butting, words flying, voices rising, stomping, sassy, demanding, I-want-it-my-way-so-I’m-going-to-yell-over-you-until-everyone’s-crying type of volatile. It finally culminated into a moment of realization over the Christmas holiday: I’m losing control of him and myself, breaking both our hearts, and damaging our relationship. I HAVE to find a way to do this differently.
Every time there had been an incident, I always ended up “winning” because I’m the mom and he’s still little. But they had begun happening more and more and I had noticed my affection toward him becoming less and less. We are so much alike in the ways we deal with frustration only because I’ve poorly modeled anger management, and so those negative tools are the only ones he knows to use to cope with his own. If you don’t listen I’ll just yell louder. If you don’t put down the toy I’ll snatch it away. If you don’t start walking I will carry you kicking and screaming. You are a frustrating tiny human and I’m going to let you know it and feel it.
And man, did I make sure he knew it and felt it. Especially when he would make huge messes, spill things, drop and break things accidentally, etc. Cue the extra loud, annoyed sigh. And I began to see the uncertainty in his eyes every time my voice would go up. I started to notice his extra attempts at affection and attention- which were of the preschool nature and only helped to further my irritation because his chosen methods often resulted in my clear displays of annoyance and his subsequent misbehavior. I was pushing him away almost every time. Not necessarily physically, but certainly emotionally. I was shutting him out. It was obvious that his sense of emotional safety and stability were on the edge because he never knew how I was going to respond to anything he did.
I know there’s grace and forgiveness in all of it. But there comes a point at which one must recognize their damaging behavior, own it, change it, and live differently. Grace and forgiveness are real and beautiful gifts, but there are still consequences that result from poor behavior and wrong decisions. I was beginning to lose my son at the tender age of four. At least that’s how it felt to me.
Since returning home from our holiday travelling I have marked a course to pursue the way of love with my sons. And here is how I’m changing my behavior:
I’m beginning to invite them in.
Into my inner thoughts. Into my prayers. Into my daydreams. Into my physical space. Into my arms. Into the tasks that I would normally just try to accomplish myself. Into the hard moments.
Maybe to most people that seems like a glaringly obvious thing to do. But I struggle to share a lot of things, including my space and time. So for the first week I would very literally repeat the words “invite them in” like a mantra in my brain every time I felt a rush to push back, say no, cut them off, or raise my voice. It was difficult, but every time I successfully resolved a situation peacefully I felt more empowered and at peace than when I would attempt to control a situation by shouting or demanding. When my oldest son would begin arguing with me, instead of yelling I started hugging. What I discovered is that what he has been needing more than anything is reassurance- reassurance of my love, my affection, and my delight in him; that I value him as my son, as a human, and as a part of our family. He was desperate for it.
What it came down to for me was a misconstrued vision of our roles and how I thought our lives were supposed to be playing out. I had been fighting very selfishly for my space and time, wanting to control all the outcomes and avoid more work for myself instead of inviting my children into my space and allowing them to just be present and accepted as they are: preschoolers. They are not fully-functioning adults. My expectations for their behavior were not at all proportionate to their ages, especially my oldest son. They need me to be present, and calm, and listen, and teach, and watch, and take part. They are clingy sponges that require the space- my space- to simply be and learn and grow. Not pushed out in a wave of heated frustration and heavy sighs.
It’s not convenient. There’s nothing convenient about life with children. And it’s not supposed to be. I have had to let go of this notion of “me and them”, and instead embrace “us.” We are us all of the time. A family. A unit. Our space, our time, our love… it all must be shared- sometimes all day and all night. Like right now when the kids are on winter break, the temperature is below zero, one is potty training, and the van won’t start… we are stuck here together for DAYS. A potential nightmare for any parent with young children.
But I have to say, this last week and a half of change has been nothing short of miraculous- a gift from God. We have needed this time- okay I have needed this time- to fully embrace this truth of us and live into it fully. My relationship with my oldest son has already vastly improved. When his voice goes up, mine stays steady. When his feet start stomping, my arms stretch out. When his words turn sassy, I speak the truth in love. Discipline is necessary and consistent. But already it’s been required less and less. Amazing.
When he looks at me now with his round, sea blue eye, they don’t hold so many questions anymore.
I’m reading a book right now called Kitchen Table Wisdom. As I was sitting one night just over a week ago reading this book, wallowing in my mom guilt, I read this excerpt that burned me:
“We have all been taught that certain of our ways don’t fit into the common viewpoint and values of the society or the family into which we have been born. Every culture, every family has its Shadow. When we’re told that “big boys don’t cry,” and “ladies never disagree with anyone,” we learn to avoid judgement by disowning our feelings and our perspectives. We make ourselves less whole. It is only human to trade wholeness for approval. Yet parts we disown are not lost, they are just forgotten… In hiding we have kept it safe.
One of the most dramatic manifestations of the life force is seen in the plant kingdom. When times are harsh and what is needed to bloom cannot be found, certain plants become spores. These plants dampen down and wall off their life force in order to survive. It’s an effective strategy. Spores found in mummies, spores thousands of years old, have unfolded into plants when given the opportunity of nurture.
When no one listens, children form spores. In an environment hostile to their uniqueness, when they are judged, criticized, and reshaped through approval into what is wanted rather than supported and allowed to develop naturally into who they are, children wall the unloved parts of themselves away. People may become spores young and stay that way throughout most of their lives. But a spore is a survival strategy, not a way of life. Spores do not grow. They endure. What you needed to do to survive may be very different from what you need to do to live.”
I want to listen. I don’t want to know and shape only the select parts of my children that are riveting and easy to manage. In fact I don’t want to “manage” my kids at all. I want to do life with them. I desire that they develop their whole, unique selves within the safe space of our family instead of feeling the emptiness of a partial existence. For far too long I have seen them as disruptive to my order rather than what they actually are: an extension of God’s holiness and beauty, and grace- His order.
Parenting is sanctifying work. It’s refining work. It’s a throw-your-entire-body-into-a-vat-of-bubbling-lava kind of work. Because the person that comes out the other side is vastly different from the one who first took the plunge. The crisscrossing battle scars and burns become a precious work of art; reminders of the holy path you’re walking, the miles you’ve already traveled, wisdom gleaned along the way, and the selfishness that’s being chipped away to reveal a clearer image of the Jesus within.
So now I invite them in to live with me, not around me. And it really is the most fulfilling and satisfying kind of life.
Peace & Love, Amy