I don’t think that there is one mother on the planet who has not, at some point, in their parenting journey looked at their children and mentally filled out adoption papers, or had an internal debate of sending them to Australia for a walkabout for a few years. My oldest child is not even in double digits yet, and I think that those thoughts cross my mind (sometimes in a flash…and sometimes they linger for a few hours) at least on a bi weekly basis.
There are times when it’s an innocent embarrassing moment. I remember when Caleb, who is my youngest had just turned 3 years old. We were in a bathroom at the mall, and of course, not wanting to leave my 3-year-old by himself, took him into the bathroom stall with me. It was a fairly busy bathroom, with a small line up of ladies waiting for an open toilet. As I started to go, the silence was broken by the voice of my incredulous toddler’s horrified yell, “Mommy! Where is your penis?! You’re peeing out your bum! Did your penis fall off?!?”
I could hear some stifled snickering from the stalls beside me, as I tried to whisper a quick toddler explanation that women do not have the same private parts as men do, to which he exclaimed, in his one volume tone, “OH!!! Let me see! I want to see your bagina! Do I have a bangina too??” As I’m hushing him, and trying to wrap this conversation up and correct pronunciation at the same time (I can’t help it. I’m a stickler that way), I wished I was invisible as I opened the door and tried not to make eye contact with any ladies who were hiding their smiles as we went to wash our hands.
Quite frankly, I’m not sure what was more embarrassing – that situation, or the time Sam was the same age and went to the public swimming pool with me and practically shouted in the women’s bathroom, “Mommy! Look! That lady’s private part has a moustache!” Of course, as you’re apologizing to the poor lady, and your son is still pointing at her, it doesn’t help the situation. In either scenario, I was tempted to pretend I was the children’s Nanny, and not their mother.
Instances like that are embarrassing, but you laugh about them later because it is very obviously an age appropriate “ha ha” that your other mom friends understand and have stories fairly similar to that under their belts too. However, what happens when your child makes choices or exhibits behavior that is not so much a “ha ha” but more obnoxious, belligerent, and lacks any resemblance of self control?
While my oldest son did not give us as much grief in his toddler years, his early childhood years of 5 to 7 were a far cry from a walk in the park. Samuel is quite academically and cognitively ahead of his age group, but behaviorally and emotionally a little below his age group. The problem that this large gap presents is that so many people in his life (including us as his parents) have expectations of him at a 10-year-old level on all fronts because he has high vocabulary, a complex thinking capacity, and a higher level of articulating himself. But, when his little 7 or 8-year-old self is emotionally more at a 5-year-old level, when he loses his temper, or lashes out, we tend to want to deal with it as though he were 8 to 10-years-old. The ultimate result of this is a larger outburst, a stalemate of wills, and a crushed spirit.
When Samuel was in Kindergarten, I remember his first outbursts at home where he would scream that he hated us, that no one loved him, and that he was leaving and never coming back. This would happen over something ridiculously small, like us disciplining him for talking rudely to his little brother, or us enforcing bedtime. At first, we thought that this was semi-normal 5-year-old behavior and that it would phase itself out. However, as this became more of his “go to” of expressing himself, we became concerned and wanted to crush that behavior. We did not empathize with him, but rather told him that he was being ridiculous and that it was not an appropriate way to express himself.
When behavior like this presented itself in the classroom, I was sent emails from teachers about his behavior because he lashed out at his peers because they didn’t want to do something he wanted to do, or he threatened to kill himself (Yup, grade one. I mean, really??). Reacting with grace and mercy towards my son was not even on my radar. My first thoughts were always, “We need to discipline him! We need to give harsh consequences so that behavior is nipped at the beginning! He is being so dramatic!”
So, as his parents, we did what we felt was best and parented the way that we felt in our limited wisdom to do. This went on for Kindergarten, then grade one, and then grade two. Years of us coming down on him for everything started taking a toll on him, and on us. Not that it happened too often, but when a teacher called, or emailed, my stomach would be in knots. Even if his teacher was waiting for us outside during pick up to tell us something amazing that he had done that day, my first thoughts were always, “What did he do this time?”
For those of you who read my blog about the significance of your “village,” you will come to know that I will make reference to my village people a lot. I honestly do not know if I would have thrived with parenting as much as I do, if it were not for my villagers. There is one lady in particular in my life that I constantly go to for parenting advice. She is older than me, and raised ten children (all biological and no twins…seriously, this woman deserves an award) that are all wonderful human beings. Her youngest in nearly 18 years old, and she is a grandmother several times over. Why do I see her as successful? All ten of her children really love each other. As siblings, they support one another, go to each other’s graduations, celebrate the birth of children, have fun together, and are genuinely excited to hang out and be involved in each others’ lives. They all have a great relationship with their parents and they love Jesus. Family gatherings are something they all look forward to and plan with excitement. Seriously, to me, that is a huge benchmark I hope to strive for in my own family. As such, the amount of admiration and respect I have for this woman who fostered this culture in her family over the past 40 years, is not measurable.
Anyways, this wonderful lady and her wonderful husband once told me that one of their biggest revelations in their parenting journey was to be on their kids’ side. They said to Jonathan and I one time that if kids know that you have their back and that you are on their team, they will want a relationship with you. That way, when the big stuff happens, they know you are safe to talk to about anything and that they can trust you. As you develop that kind of relationship with your children, home will become not only a safe place, but a fun place! They said that when they become teenagers, they would rather be home, than go out to parties with all their other friends, because home is an awesome place to be. At first, while what they said made sense, a small part of me wondered if this was truly 100% accurate.
Last year, their second youngest son graduated from high school. I was utterly amazed when he gave up going to his class after grad party to hang out at home that evening because he had visiting siblings from other cities and provinces come out for his grad. I asked him why he would choose to do that, since his class was quite small, and they were all pretty good friends. Didn’t he want to spend the last “hoorah” with his buddies? Without hesitation he said to me, “Nope. I love my family. We had so much fun playing games that night!” There you have it. The proof is in the pudding.
Their advice resonated with me earlier last year. I realized that my method of trying to correct my son’s behavior at every turn was crushing him, frustrating us as parents, and creating a broken foundation of relationship we wanted to have with him. As I prayed more and more for wisdom, as his behavior seemed to be getting more and more out of control, the Lord kept bringing me back to my friend’s advice – be on his side.
In my prayer times, there would be moments where I would question in frustration, “How, Lord? How can I be on his side when his attitude is so rotten and his teachers have every reason to be reaching out to me about his behavior??” Then one night, the Holy Spirit responded to me and said, “But, I’m always on your side, regardless of your behavior. Your choices have no bearing on how much I love you, and how deeply I desire to walk with you.”
This past summer, when we decided to home school our son, I had two months to really reflect on what that decision meant. Ultimately, it was a choice to die to self, and take myself out of center, so that I could objectively look at my son’s needs. This time of reflection was extremely humbling and at times, hurtful. I saw so many instances over the past years, where I sided with teachers over my son. I saw times when I listened to grandparents, and felt ashamed of my children, rather than protect them. I saw the hurt in my son’s eyes when he realized that no one was on his side. I saw confusion and sadness when he saw, what must have looked like disappointment of his parents, when really, we were just so exhausted and feeling like failures ourselves – but instead, made him feel like a failure. I saw how my projected standards of unrealistic expectations for where he was at in his life, hurt his heart and made him insecure in who God made him to be. I saw fear and shame when I would sit him down to talk about his choices at school, and asked him “Why would you do that?”, when really, he did not know the answer to that condemning question himself.
Even as I write this, tears steadily stream down my face, because I realize that it was never in my son that I was disappointed. All those times, it was really myself that I was disappointed in. It was not that I ever felt my son fell short – it was that I felt I had fallen short. Yet, because of my care of what others felt and thought about my son, I made him feel inadequate. It perpetuated a behavior in him that desired to find acceptance, because there didn’t seem to be unconditional acceptance from the people that should offer it freely – his parents.
The decision to home school and reflect, made me slow down. It forced me to really take a deep breath and choose to empathize with him. It has given me some time to protect him, to pour into him, to love him, and to just take time…with him. A verse that resonated with me deeply was Romans 2:4 where it says that it is the LOVE of God that leads us to repentance. It made me wonder why I didn’t take that approach with my own son? Somehow I thought that consequences, fear of punishment, and nagging would change his behavior.
Truth be told, while home school has been a phenomenal choice for Sam, it has stretched me as a mother, a wife, and as person more than I ever thought it would. Only three weeks in, I have already reached out for support many times, as there are days where I don’t know if I’m holding it together well enough. I am exhausted by mid afternoon, and I feel like the work never stops. However, when I see my son humming or whistling while he is doing desk work, or asking for cuddles at recess time (even though I have a pile of marking and I’m trying to prep for our next lesson) and beaming when I put everything aside and sit on the couch with him as he snuggles in, I’m reminded at just how valuable I am on his team. Even in these short months, I have seen him grow in his confidence. He has not had an outburst in months because there is no need. He is feeling more and more at peace and secure in his place in our family, and finding that he has incredible value in our home.
Home schooling has shown Sam that he is worth it. I asked him today what his favorite part of home school was. I asked him if it was his pajama day, or that he got hot lunches everyday. He said no. He said with a huge smile, “My favorite parts is that you don’t know where your phone is when we do school, and that when I want to cuddle at recess, we always do and that you stop your desk work to cuddle me.”
In his answer, I realized that my children are always watching. They feel everything. They can see what we value, and when they feel that we make the effort to value them over all else, they are the absolute happiest.
While my life has become drastically busier, and days are constantly filled, I can tangibly feel the burden lifted off my son, and so, I feel that burden has lifted off me as well. I am learning to celebrate his successes with him on a real level. I’m learning to not be so distracted all the time when I say, “Good job!” – but to actually stop what I’m doing, look him in the eye and high five him. I am consciously looking to carry his burdens with him until he learns to confidently carry them himself. Ultimately, I need to remember that the Jesus I want them to know, is going to be the Jesus that I show them through my choices and my actions – and because my Jesus died on the cross for me out of an indescribable great love, I want him to know that his boo-boos are my boo-boos, too.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life” – John 15:13
If you like my posts, and find someone else might enjoy them, please feel free to share and invite them to follow The Journey of a Crazy Asian Mom! Thanks for reading.