Monday, October 1, 2012

The Not-So-Bright-And-Cheery

I took this picture this afternoon. Honestly, I took it so I could email it to Bryan and say, "She's doing it again. Here's proof." I did send him a similarly-worded e-mail, but I didn't have the heart to attach the picture. I didn't want it to be like I found entertainment in the way she was behaving and the kind of afternoon I was having, because it wasn't funny. It was hard and frustrating and driving me crazy and making her miserable.

I won't get into the details too much, but, basically, for the past two days Olivia has been flat out refusing to tell me sorry when she does something to hurt or disrespect me. She'll do something to me on purpose or accidentally, I'll request that she apologize, and she just plain refuses to. It's not that she doesn't feel bad. I know she feels bad. But instead of apologizing she cries and tries to get out of the situation instead of confronting it and taking responsibility for her actions.

Now, listen, I know she's three. I know she's little and she has limits. I don't expect her to be perfect or to have perfect behavior. I let things slide because, yes, she's little. And for a long time I had been excusing her treatment of me by saying, "She's just little. She's not trying to hurt me or hurt my feelings. She doesn't know." It still hurt me, of course, but I tried not to be offended by it. There's a difference. I still try to consciously remember not to be offended by the things she says or does to me that hurt my feelings, but that doesn't mean the hurt isn't there. Or that it doesn't drive me crazy sometimes.

But sometime recently I reached a breaking point. No, it is not okay for her to physically hurt me--even if it's a small thing and it's on accident--and not apologize. I'm a human being too. And, hey, if nothing else, it's good practice for the way I want her to treat everybody else in the world.

But, even deeper than that, I don't want our mother-daughter relationship to be set up in such a way that she's disrespectful to me. Yes, I want to be kind and loving and shower her with praise and all of those warm fuzzies. But I also want her to know that I am a person, just like her, and that I have needs and feelings too. I want her to know that I give everything to her, that I sacrifice everything for her, that she is smack dab at the very top of my list of priorities, and that all of that deserves her respect.

But, of course, you can't make a three year-old say "Sorry." You can't make anyone say sorry. No matter how much I may threaten to put her in bed and take away all of her toys, no matter how much I hold her on my lap or keep her in time out, no matter how much I tell her, "You're going to be in so much trouble," I can't press a button and make the word, "sorry" come out. This life is about agency and, for better or worse (and it's for better), it is her choice to apologize. Given, it's also her choice to not apologize and suffer the consequences of not having any toys or shows or fun activities to do, but it's her choice all the same.

For two days in a row now I've been running the gauntlet of "Say, 'I'm sorry, Mommy," and having her refuse. Both times, she's eventually come around, but not before she's worn us both down to practically nothing. Yesterday Bryan was home and could play his role. Today he was in class late and I was all by myself. By the time he walked in the door after a long, hard day himself, I was falling asleep on the couch. Olivia had finally apologized by then, but I felt entirely spent, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

I spent most of the day thinking about how grateful I am that she's in preschool now. But I also spent a lot of time thinking about my own role in the whole ordeal, whether I was right to do this or that, and what else I could do to help her. More than once I prayed inwardly, asking for help not only to not mistreat her or emotionally scar her in some way, but to handle the situation well. It's hard to think back on the whole thing because, while I know I did my best, my best wasn't very good. But, deep down, I also feel strongly that I did the right thing. Even, that I handled things with Heavenly Father's help. And that's hard to accept because it was still such a dark place to be. But I'm learning that that's part of being a mother who loves unconditionally. To stay with my daughter, even in her darkness, and help her find the brightness on the other side. To essentially say, "You're in a dark place right now, but I'm still not going to desert you because I love you no matter what."

She fell asleep in the middle of her tantrum and after she woke up and had a snack, she asked for something and I told her for the millionth time that I was happy to give it to her after she said, "Sorry." I expected to hear more of the same thing I had been hearing for the past several hours, but to my relief and delight, somewhere inside her a cloud lifted and she said, "Sorry, Mommy."

After being mad and frustrated for so many hours, the selfish part of me wanted to keep on being mad. But I knew I better not miss my chance, so I let it go as much as I possibly could. I lit up, gave her a big smile, hugged her, told her thank you, and did just about everything I could to communicate to her not only that I was grateful for her good choice and her kind words, but also that her mommy still loves her, despite the bad choices she had made.

I know all you people out there with five kids and another one on the way are thinking, "Oh, how cute! She thought this was a big deal, but really she's just a dumb first-time mom who was too stupid to put her kid down for a nap! Aww." I'd think the same thing if I read this somewhere else, but let me just say, yeah, I had totally thought of that. But that is exactly what did not happen when we went through this whole ordeal yesterday. Yesterday she was being rude, refusing to apologize, and generally throwing a tantrum, so we put her down for a nap, sure that she'd wake up and be her happy, kind self again. Except she wasn't. She woke up happy and kind, was gently reminded that she still needed to apologize, and suddenly we were in for round two of the saga. So when it happened again today I was less than hopeful that a nap was going to provide the cure. And I think both the nap and the snack helped, but the real thing is that eventually she chose to say she was sorry.

So often we only see the cute pictures of people's kids. The happy birthday and first day of preschool pictures. The smiles. The good behavior. The I'm so proud of my kid because. And I certainly do my fair share of bragging about Olivia's good looks and smart brains. So I am here to say, this is what some of our other days look like. Like a mommy that's so, so frustrated and a daughter that just wants her daddy. Like tears and time outs and all the toys suddenly belonging to Mommy. Like she's begging to sit on my lap and wants nothing to do with me all at the same time. Crying at me from the other room when I try to step away for a few minutes and catch my breath.

Friends, some days it's hard to be a mom. Some days I'd give anything for a break. Some days I walk the dark road and can't help but think to myself, "No wonder we haven't been blessed with more children." Maybe for you when you have these days you think, "How could we have been blessed with so many children?" Days like this leave me feeling drained of any desire to wash the dishes or work on things I love. Days like this make me feel entirely inadequate. Hello, humility.

Today was hard. Today was not fun. But today was also important and, eventually, we got through it. To all you fellow moms out there struggling with your own important hard days, hang in there. This too shall pass.


Kathy Haynie said...

I want to give you both a hug. I wish it wasn't so hard. I'm glad you're patient and not lashing out in frustration. Love you all so much.

Kristie said...

Good for you for sticking to your guns. My hubby often reminds me to stand up for myself more often. And yes, it is hard. Hard to be stuck with your cute kiddos all day long. But still. You want them to show you respect, because what they do at home is very much how they will act out in the real world. And the sooner that they are able to accept and take responsibility for what they do, the better for us as parents and out community.
So often I think that sometimes parents are missing so many great opportunities to teach our children to be leaders, to be responsible members of our communities. I know I am not perfect, but I do try. And hopefully my kids remember the good things we did, and the good things I taught them.
Good luck. Hope tomorrow is a better day for you both.

Rudi said...

Hi! I've been reading your blog for a little while now but haven't commented. We're Facebook friends... I think we met a long time ago, I'm one of Megan Schmidt's friends. I really enjoy reading your blog, I think you have wonderful things to say, and it's refreshing to read a blog that's "real" and relatable. Anyway, not to throw a bunch of advice at you, but, I've been going through similar things with my 2 1/2 year old daughter. It is super frustrating, but after doing some reading and praying and pondering (but mostly just reading about tantrums on parenting sites), I've been most successful with trying to remain as neutral as possible when she's throwing tantrums (specifically when she's not wanting to say sorry) and trying not to make a huge deal out of it. It's so easy to become emotionally involved (because we love our children), but as soon as we become emotionally involved in the tantrum, it becomes a power struggle. And power struggles are hard, for everyone involved. One blog that has helped me a lot is - an LDS mother of 11 answers questions about parenting. Reading her answers always fills me with hope! Good luck :) Hope today goes better for you.

Holly Mayer said...

I needed to read this today. Dave's gone for work and I woke up with a gloomy cloud over my head. Some days are hard, but we always have the choice how we behave.

It helps Arora to write an " I'm sorry" note. Much easier for her then saying the words.

Lisa Lou said...

I just had like 3 fb friends mention the same thing with their 3-year olds.

Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

It's the age. This is my life with stubborn! Good luck. Hope today goes better.

themissymom said...

You go mom. You are on the right track! Having raised a very strong willed child who is now an amazing young adult...stick with it.

alee said...

Just so you know, you made me cry with the last paragraph. The last week has been hard, the last 2 days painful, and today has been absolutely unbearable. Motherhood is hard- extremely. Thanks for the encouragement :)

Tiffany said...

Sorry it was a rough day. Megan is the same way about saying sorry. I think she gets super embarrassed. I've had many an "awesome" (that's sarcastic) mommy moment trying to get her to apologize to kids who she hurts on accident, and I feel like psycho mom. It's always nice to know I'm not the only one out there... :)

I hope things get better with Olivia and you soon. :)

soggybottomflats said...

I love your blog, it does take me back. I just attended my baby boys' 34th birthday party, so it has been awhile. I had daughters and sons, but noticed that one of my little girls was the most willful and disobedient. I think it started when she was 2 1/2 to 3. She was a true trial to raise...and is the most beautiful, sweet and caring daughter in the world. My grandmother told me she was "that" way because her and I were alike, like 2 peas in a pod. Looking back, it was a power struggle between the 2 of us. It will get better, you are an awesome mom and you have the virtual hugs from all over the globe to remind you it will fade. You have the most important job in the world, forming the next super adult who is going to be capable of anything! Good job mom! Elaine

Jenn said...

hey, i know it's frustrating, but I think you nailed in the head when you wrote that you can't MAKE her say sorry. I read a wonderful book called 'beyond timeout'. Loved it. But one of the things that I use constantly with the kids is just talking to them about why it makes whoever sad and then just telling them, 'I think it would make you so and so feel a lot better and it would make you feel a lot better if you tell them you're sorry'. They almost always go on their own accord and give a hug and say sorry. Not every time, but as much as I want them to always say it, I have no control over that so why try to make them do something that you are probably going to lose the battle over?
Anyway, I recommend the book. It's seriously changed my parenting. So much less frustration and so much more obedience without all the tears.
Don't get me wrong, my kids are still kids and try to push buttons and get their way, but it's so much better.
You're a great mom. Hang in there!

Jean said...

Being as our children are all grown and are having children of their own... it's easier for me to look from afar and say... yes, I remember when that happened to me! It's tough being a parent... it's a 24/7 job. And yes, some days it can be a thankless job... rewarding yes, but some days you just think... what in the world was I thinking having 4 kids! I'm sure Heavenly Father was just smiling and thinking... you think 4 is tough... try a world's worth! LoL
We are all here to learn... and to keep things in perspective when we have these trials (and that's exactly what they are... like a life long trial that we are all judged on) we need to remember that this too shall pass. It's hard; but worth every single minute of it! And when your little ones are no longer little, and they call and say mom, so and so is doing this; how do I cope? You tell them; to get down on their knee's... and have the little ones down on their's too.. Put out a heart felt prayer to Heavenly Father... so the little one will hear too. And between you and me; it can be a pretty humbling thing to have a 3 year old look at you and say... I'm sorry I hurt you mommy... I won't do it again, cause I know that Heavenly Father wants us all to be happy! The Holy Ghost has a habit of touching little ones hearts... sometimes they just need to know the simple truth...
Good Luck... your not in this alone!
Hugs, Jean C.