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Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

This morning, for the second day in a row, Laila knocked my coffee off the table, completely soaking a big pile of her books and breaking my favorite mug. I do not always (or even often) respond well to this sort of thing. As I started to yell, I realized my mistake and stopped. I explained to her that it was an accident, that we have control over our responses, and that anger is not a good response to frustration. She’s way more important to me, I said, than a book or a coffee mug. Expressing my frustration is not worth hurting her.

This was a teachable moment, and aside from my initial outburst, I think I handled it pretty well. I calmed down, explained to Laila that mommy’s response had been inappropriate, and modeled a better response. Laila seemed to understand. “Not Laila’s fault, no,” she said. “Mommy’s fault.” Well.

The problem is that in the long run, teachable moments don’t always work.

The things my parents told me have stuck in my mind. They surface when I’m making a decision or considering an issue to which they apply. But they are something to be weighed along with everything else I’ve absorbed along the way, whether from teachers, peers, or culture in general. My parents’ lessons may resonate more strongly than other input, but they exist within the same category of information to be judged. I don’t believe this has anything to do with my parents. Words, and even the most persuasive of arguments, simply have limited influence.

The most powerful way in which my parents shaped my life was by determining my most basic understanding of how life works. I think about what they told me, but I do what they do. I don’t have to consider whether it’s worthwhile to share a family meal; that’s just what families do. Families go to church on Sunday. They make music together. They show gratitude to each other and to God, and they appeal to Him in times of difficulty. Spouses have patience for each others’ faults and show embarrassing amounts of affection in front of their children. These things don’t have to go through the normal channels of consideration to affect me; they’re just how I live.

My mom doesn’t spend excessive money on clothing, because she values other things more highly. She loves to nurture, be it plants or babies. She believes in order, honesty, and good manners. My dad appreciates intellectual thought and artistic expression. He values prudence and self-sacrifice. He tells his daughters they’re beautiful and his sons they’re strong. My parents value family over money and true wisdom over what our culture offers.

All of these values have found their expression in me, though not yet as strongly as in my parents. I’m hoping that’s just because I’ve had fewer years to work out the kinks.

So what should I have done this morning? I should have responded well, rather than explaining what a good response looks like. I shouldn’t have slipped into believing my inconvenience was reason to hurt my daughter. She may hear my words, but my actions are what she’ll model.

This is hard. It would be much easier if I could patch over my faults with a pep talk and hope it sticks. But it won’t. If I want my children to value family time, I have to value family time. If I want my daughter to have a positive body image, I’ve got to get over thinking appearance is so important. If I want my children to handle their anger well, then I’ve got to stop throwing temper tantrums. I’ve simply got to become a better person, the sort of person I’d be proud for them to be.

My children have been good for me in so many ways. Waking up at night with that first baby pretty quickly cured me of the notion that my desire to sleep was something the world should work around. The love I can’t help but have forces me outside myself and into self-sacrifice. But even more than that, they’re an ultimatum. I can’t put off changing my bad habits because they’re watching me now. It’s time to grow up.

Hopefully.

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Mommy Guilt

Yesterday was, in retrospect, a good day. I looked at a few potential houses, read Peter Rabbit to Laila, and made a delicious quiche/pie thing out of the leftover greens in the fridge. Sure, the house was a mess when I went to bed, but I’ll take what I can get. But sometimes, no matter how sweet the kids are, they just drive me insane. Completely bonkers. ‘Cause here’s the thing:

They never stop.

Laila speaks pretty well now, ALL THE TIME. And William couldn’t care less about my intended methods of parenting; he has chosen the attachment lifestyle. Usually I can manage to wipe a table or throw together a simple dinner, but forget balancing a budget. Anything that involves whatever mental capacities I have left needs to wait until they’re in bed. You know, when the house is finally quiet, and you’re exhausted, and all you want to do is lie on the couch and zone with Netflix. Prime thinking time right there.

So yesterday, I was trying to make a piecrust (which for me, is most definitely NOT simple dinner material), and Laila really wanted a bite of the dough. She didn’t throw a fit or anything, she just politely asked over and over until my nerves were completely shredded and I gave in because of course she’s not going to like it because it’s just whole wheat flour, butter, and salt, and if she tries it and hates it maybe she’ll give me a moment’s peace.

I’m an awesome parent like that.

Of course it didn’t work, because it was the best thing she’d ever tasted (I believe her exact words were, “Thank you nummy treat, Mom! More, pease?”) And I just lost it. I released all my petty rage in a brain-clearing growl. Thankfully I had the presence of mind to smile, and Laila thought I was joking. She growled back, and we turned it into a game.

I have a lot of flaws as a human being, and motherhood has only highlighted them. But my most crippling, destructive flaw isn’t my impatience. It’s not my selfishness, my laziness, or even my anger.

It’s my guilt.

I learned early on as a mother to stop judging other mothers. Once you see yourself fail over and over again, and realize that somehow your kids still adore you and that they’re not turning into little sociopaths (yet, at least), you begin to understand that other ways of doing things might not be so terrible after all (I mean, for all my ideals, I growled at my sweet daughter for wanting another bite of dough). Having grace for other moms has become much easier for me.

Having grace for myself hasn’t.

After all, I’m me, right? I should be able to answer the eight quintillionth pointless question with as much patience as I answered the first. I should be happy to ignore the dirty dishes for a few more minutes (hours) when my daughter wants me to read a book (or twelve). I should be a creator of harmony, secure in my success as I instill timeless wisdom into my obedient, freshly-scrubbed offspring. I’m a good person, I have values, I treasure the new life that marriage brings and wouldn’t want it any other way. So why does my reality involve covering up the anger I feel at my daughter’s childishness? I should be better than that.

That kind of guilt? It’s a form of pride.

I’m not talking about the healthy guilt, the quick pang that corrects our behavior when it’s out of line with our morals. I’m talking about the gnawing, crippling, depression-inducing guilt that tells me I’m too good for this kind of behavior at the same time it tells me that of course I messed up and what else should one expect from me.

It’s one thing to determine how to live based on principles and goals. It’s another to imagine the awesome life I can have because, I mean, c’mon, I’m a pretty awesome person. When I build that dream, and reality fails to match it (as it inevitably does), the weight of my mediocrity and normalcy crushes me. I want to hide in bed, distracting myself and others from the knowledge of my failure.

That is pride. It is the secret, ugly belief that I am somehow better. Others’ failures I can understand, but my own? I am capable of more.

So here’s to humility. Here’s to acknowledging our weaknesses, and being patient with ourselves while striving to be better. Not so we can reach some peak of perfection, but because it’s the right thing to do, for ourselves and for our children.

P.S. Mom, you’re awesome. I have no idea how you did it.

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