They Don't Come With a Manual
I lost my child today. That is a devastating statement. And, the worst part, is that it was my fault. Well at least sort of. Allow me to explain. It's a long, complicated story. Four children is a challenge. I'm not saying it's not worth it because the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Nonetheless, there are moments when I certainly question my competency to raise these four precious kids into fully functioning members of society. As most of you know, my two older children are biologically mine. Thus, when one of my teenage girls rolls her eyes in my face and tells me how stupid I am, I am not surprised. It's like watching your own character flaws staring you back in the face. The things that make me the maddest at my oldest daughter are my own worst characteristics. That is humbling. My second born is her father made over. She was born an adult. Therefore, she currently knows much more than me. The difference between her and her father is one simple ingredient. Estrogen. That makes her volatile.
Although they are only two years apart, they could not be more different, and I find that the ways I need to interact with them are very specific to their personalities. Sometimes, I understand them because they are biologically mine. Others times, I think I have two alien beings going through puberty in my house.
Then, there are the boys who were not birthed by me but are, nonetheless, my sons. I cannot imagine loving them more. They are, however, incredibly different. They are different from each other, and they are different from their sisters. If I'd had boys first, there may not be girls. You've heard me refer to what we call the "penis factor" in our house. It's what happens when the boys display a behavior wherein there is no frontal lobe engagement. This morning, for example, we had a WWF wrestling match in the floor in the kitchen. It all started when one walked down the stairs and smacked the other in the butt for no apparent reason and with no provocation. A brawl ensued. I stepped over the rustle multiple times before heading out the door. And, of course, I dropped my phone, forgot to eat breakfast, and failed to pack my lunch. (As luck would have it, our family went out for pizza last night, and my kids left the box of leftovers in the car. I figured it was cold enough outside to be a refrigerator, and the pizza would be fine. So, I took it in to eat for lunch. Don't judge. I was doing the best I could do!) I found myself on the way to school giving each of them a lecture about how to respect and honor one another. My lovely speech, along with Scripture quotations, fell on deaf ears. One says the other bullies him, and the other says his brother eggs him on. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Often, I can't find it, and I just don't even try. They rolled out of the car swatting at each other. Good times. Over the last couple of months, we have sought counseling with several of the kids to help us be better parents. Yes, I do have a degree in counseling, but I fully recognize when I am in over my head. White flag is flying. I'm learning to listen more. I'm learning to have a Botox brow when listening to both sides of a story. And, I am learning techniques to allow my kids to "cool off" before we discuss behavior and consequences. Sounds easy on paper. But, I assure you, it's much harder to implement. I walked in the door today, and my nanny met me at the door with the news that one of the boys was having an explosion of anger concerning the condition of his room. Today was laundry day. The nanny kindly assists the boys with their laundry (they cannot reach the buttons on the stacked washer and dryer), but she does not pick the laundry up off the floor and put it in the hamper. If it's not in the hamper, it's not washed. That worked for a while. Then we realized they were just wearing dirty socks and dirty underwear over and over again. So, we added the consequence that if the clothes are not in the hamper, not only are they not washed, but there is an additional five minutes of reading that day for every piece of laundry in the floor. (Again, I've been working on my love and logic parenting techniques.) Unfortunately, one of my sons had 27 pieces of clothing on the floor and had been confronted with the reality that he needed to read . . . well, you do the math. Needless to say, he lost it, and I happened to walk in the door at the exact moment he stormed upstairs and slammed his bedroom door. Welcome home, Mommy!
I took a deep breath, and I decided to try out one of my new parenting techniques and let him cool off with an activity. I went to his room and invited him to go with me on a car ride. I was tempted to take him to the police station when he would not buckle his seatbelt in protest, but we ultimately made it to the park without getting pulled over. Freedom Park to be exact. I suggested that he take a walk to calm down as that had been a recommendation of our counselor. He said "fine," but I could not walk with him. I suggested he walk around the pond so I could see him. But, in protest, he instead took off in the other direction, wanting to walk around the ballfields. Fine. I still thought I could keep a visual. He headed that direction, and I followed about 50 yards behind. When he saw me, he took off in a dead sprint. To make a long story short. I lost visual.
I walked back to the car thinking eventually he would come back from the ballfields. He didn't come back. Thirty minutes into the ordeal, after I had walked every square inch of the park I could see from my car, I was panicked. A very kind mom allowed me to use her cell phones to call for back up. Remember, I had left my cell phone at home that morning and never remembered to grab it when I walked into the behavior fiasco at the house. Now, I may be the only mom with this problem, but everyone in my household has a cell phone, and I do not have all of the numbers committed to memory. First, I tried Joe. No answer. Of course, he was not going to answer a phone number he did not know. Then, I tried the teenager. I knew she would have her phone in hand as it is a permanent appendage to her palm. She did exactly what I've always told her to do--she ignored the call from the unfamiliar number. The clock continued to tick, and I continued to panic. That mother offered to go drive around one side of the park and look for him. As I waited for her to return, another set of moms with strollers walked by from another direction. They confirmed they had seen him (an adorable boy who charmingly stopped to say hello to their babies) headed toward the park entrance. Oh no. I asked to use one of their phones. This time, I went with the text desperate plea. By then, I had remembered the girls' and Joe's phone numbers. Even if they would not answer a phone call, they would at least read a foreign text. At this point I was about to lose it. I'm trying to hold it together but daylight was fleeting, and I was scared my next call was going to be 911 for a police search for a missing kid. Just as I am about to hyperventilate, I saw my son nonchalantly walking toward me from the complete opposite end of the park. I didn't know whether to hug him or scream at him. He walked up calmly and said that he was feeling better, and he apologized for his behavior. I then started weeping. He looked at me incredulously. "Mom, you told me to take a walk and I did. I am better now." I had failed, however, to tell him to stay within my eyesight. He had taken the foot bridge over the creek on to the Greenway and walked all the way to Princeton and back. I could not see him. But, in his mind, he had done exactly what I told him to do.
I cried the whole way home. I cried because I was happy he was safe. I cried because I was mad that he had walked so far from me. And I cried because I was faced with the own failure of my parenting. We got home and he hopped out of the car to go in to apologize to the nanny. I sat in the driveway, crying, and asking God for help. Nope. They don't come with a manual. But I'm seeking God's wisdom and His word. Indeed, kids don’t like to be disciplined. None of us do. And, giving and receiving discipline can be equally painful: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11, ESV). I'm not feeling the fruit of that righteousness or that peace today. But, I know I need to stand firm. Proverbs 29:15 further reminds me: The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. I've got admit. I'm feeling pretty lousy about my parenting today.
But, I keep coming back to the Word. I know that just because kids don’t want to hear it, they still need to hear the truths of Scripture: You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:7-8, ESV). So, even when I’m quoting verses in the car, and no one seems to be listening, it has value! Eventually, I have to believe it will stick.
Finally, no matter how unpleasant discipline feels (for all of us) it does pay off: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
Hmmm. Maybe I do have a manual after all.
God, give me wisdom!