Parenting a toddler can be grueling work. It seems that every moment they are awake, you are either entertaining, meeting a need, or in the case of more than one toddler- intervening in an argument of some kind.
When I was training to be a teacher, we were touted with the importance of positive behavior management. When giving a directive, we were to tell the students what to do rather than scold them for what they should not be doing. I believe in this, for the record, but it is much harder said than done. When you’re a mom, “no” is sometimes all you can blurt out in a moment of urgency, which by the way, are in plentiful supply moment to moment.
I took my boys to the donut shop this morning before school to celebrate their last day before summer break. It was only a matter of time before my youngest was wiping donut glaze on the cushioned chairs and knocking over the ceramic end table by the entrance, making a loud metal crashing noise for the whole shop to hear. “NO!” and “Let’s get to the car,” are rehearsed phrases at this point while out and about. I like to think that I would have gracefully walked over and said “Sweetie, keep your hands off the furniture,” and “Leave the metal objects alone,” with no further action and all would be well, but that is just purely unrealistic.
Day by day, we become more and more equipped to deal with the rotten attitudes, whining voices, pushing and hitting, intermixed with just plain defiance. It can become totally exhausting.
So often, I feel inadequate to be an enforcer, a teacher, and a caretaker, all in one. We must remind them over and over of what is good and expected, so that they know what to do with their growing bodies and minds that are learning every minute about how to carry themselves in the world around them.
The enforcing has always been the hardest part for me because my personality is innately set on peacekeeping. My inaccurate logic tells me that the less they make a scene, the better; however, the repetitive punishments and directives are all ways of teaching them how not to carry themselves in this ever-changing world that they live and breathe in.
I don’t always do this well, though. I try, but there are days when my frustration or lack of sleep get the best of me, and I lose my cool. The guilt sets in, and in these moments, it is easy to allow all of the lies about who I am as a mother set in. My perfectionist tendencies rise to the surface too, beginning an all out brawl for my focused energy- causing me to believe that my efforts to be a “good” mom are futile.
So often I forget that I have abilities to mother that go beyond the learned “procedures,” “theories,” and expectations that are all too often thrust upon us by our culture.
I was born to nurture. From the time I was a little girl, some of my best memories were the times I got to take care of someone or something. To cuddle and play with a kitten, take care of a baby doll with my friends, or be the “big sister” or “big cousin” for loved ones who were smaller than me, were all ways I felt purpose and responsibility. I didn’t have to work at it, or have someone coach me in it. I just loved. It was simple.
Somehow, as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten a bit muddled. Yes, being an adult comes with a million more responsibilities, but the essence of mothering is that of a nurturer: a caring, safe place to land. She is the place to draw from when life gets complicated, or when you need some sustenance when life has left you dry.
That’s the mom I want to be.
The tireless efforts to keep boundaries in tact, along with all of the tiny needs being met are just part of the job. When all of that is done, for just a moment, there is the hug when he needs it most. There are the words of affirmation when he’s trying something new. There’s the kiss on the boo-boo and the back scratching as he’s falling asleep.
Those things are powerful, and hold so much weight.
The fact that they are innate and do not take much thought or effort shouldn’t diminish their importance in our minds.
These are things they will remember. They may not remember the 500th time you had to put them in “time-out,” but they will remember the feeling of being held after a nightmare.
There’s grace for us in the gray, confusing, exhausting efforts in discipline. There’s grace for us in the forgetful moments and the losing-our-temper moments.
And then there are the instincts we’ve carried with us since our childhood, which, I believe, are possibly the most valuable skills we bring to the table of mothering.
[Photo by Sweet Roots Photography]