When I first became a mother 8 years ago, it was all about the love.
As I held my baby close, rocked him, looked at his sleeping baby face and marveled at this little human being I had brought into this world, there was this fierce, wild, amazing love. And that's where we started. Right there in that beautiful place where love is all we needed. Where love was enough.
But you know all the things they say about children. Those things - those wild accusations - they had a way of changing how I looked at my little love.
"He'll walk all over you if you let him by with things." As though this beautiful, small child had come here with bad intentions. As though he had it out for me. As though he was plotting against his own mother.
"Kids need discipline!" Yeah, well who doesn't? I mean, what is discipline, anyway? Basically the ability to control oneself. I got cussed out many, many times in my decade-long banking career by grown people who had overdrawn their accounts or had to stand in line a little too long.They needed discipline. Like that time I had just about had it up to my eyeballs with the person on the other end of the phone, so I hung up and then threw it against the wall. I needed discipline, too. Or take the person in front of me yelling at the cashier because there aren't enough lanes open. Needs discipline. So yes, kids sure do need discipline. And so do adults. I needed it when my face turned red and my voice got too loud while locked in the struggle for power with a three year old child. Yet, he's the one who went to the corner. Not the grown up. Not me.
"He'll be a disrespectful, self-centered brat!" Oh no! Not the ever-dreaded brat. Better not let that happen. Gotta keep control. Reign him in. After all, he's out to get me. He's plotting my demise this very moment, this 36 month old child. Plotting, I tell you! Better make sure I have the upper hand.
And so, suddenly love couldn't possibly be enough anymore. I had to show him who's boss, goshdarnit! So, I did. How dare he try to step over my many boundaries! This was clearly part of his plot. I didn't let him by with it, though. No, sir. I wasn't going to raise a brat. Off to time-out he went. You sit there for 3 minutes, mister, and think about what you've done.
42 put-back-in-the-chairs later, he'd finally served his 3 minutes. VICTORY! I sure showed him.
I showed him again. And again. And again. Multiple times a day, every single day. Keeping a tyrant in line is exhausting.
Then, there's that day I realized that maybe, just maybe, I was looking at him all wrong.
What if he didn't cry to manipulate me, but he cried because he was just plain sad?
What if he didn't go straight to bed because he had missed me that day and wanted to be with me?
Maybe my sweet little love wasn't plotting to overthrow me. Maybe he was just trying to find that fierce, wild, amazing love again.
I think he missed it as much as I did.
Finally, when the days were miserable and the nights were filled with regrets, I decided enough was enough.
Five years of intensive research led me on a long, winding road. I learned an incredible amount of information from some of the greatest minds out there. In a passionate attempt to free all children from the misconceptions surrounding them, I raised my fist in the air and spoke out against the injustices that children have to suffer daily because of our fearful delusions.
Eventually I realized I wasn't really the fist in the air type. It made me anxious and kept me up at night. I'm grateful for those who stand against the injustices because somebody needs to, but I wasn't made for that. I took a bit of time away to think about what I really wanted to say to my growing readership. What is it that parents need to hear?
I think we need to hear that's it's okay to listen to our hearts. It's okay to let go of control and embrace love.
Unconditional love. Radical love. Courageous love.
I learned I could correct with love. I learned I could lead with love. I learned I could teach with love.
As I traveled down that long road, I had to re-learn love. It's easy to give a baby unconditional love. They haven't yet been dragged into the negative muck. They're still "innocent." Unconditionally loving someone now more than half my size who sometimes has a bad mood or rolls his eyes at me or argues with his brother, that takes something more. I like to call that courageous love. It's courageous to put away all those negative perceptions and open my heart completely, without fear that he'll walk all over me and turn into a disrespectful brat.
The most amazing thing happened, though. The more I loved courageously, the less problems we had. What a freeing revelation.
So, after 5 years of traveling that winding road, I've ended up right back where I started. Right here in that beautiful place where love is all we need. Where love is enough.
It turns out he never did try to walk all over me. Neither one of them.
Tender love doesn't open the door for a child to walk all over you. It opens the door for him to walk alongside you. And when he's walking alongside you, it's easier to hear him and to guide him.
My oldest son gave his little brother a big chunk of his birthday money. He said, "I have enough stuff. I just want my brother to be happy." So self-centered is this gently parented boy.
This past Christmas, upon seeing that I had filled all their stockings but mine was empty, they secretly stuffed it full of love notes and left-over Halloween candy and brought me downstairs to show me that they couldn't let mine go unfilled. I mean, how disrespectful was that?
The big question isn't whether or not you should use time out. The big question isn't if you should take away the iPad or make a get-along shirt or a ransom box. The big question is this - did you love them enough today?
When you lay your head on your pillow at night, ask yourself this one simple question – did my people go to sleep tonight feeling loved and valued? If the answer is no, get up and do something about it. Or at least resolve to make tomorrow night a different story. If the answer is yes –
yes my people went to sleep tonight feeling loved and valued – then rest easy, sweet parent. You're doing all right.
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