What Do My Reactions Say To My Children?

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction…and a parent’s overreaction.

He met me at the door, eyes wide and brow furrowed. I immediately knew something was up, because the only one who meets me at the door these days is our 7 pound, 4-year-old toy poodle. Not our 8-year-old who typically has his eyes glued to a computer screen watching cats jump three feet in the air at the sight of a cucumber, painful football injuries…or people opening Christmas presents. (I didn’t even know that was a thing.)

No, it couldn’t be good.

As I opened the door, he launched into the horrific tale of walking into our master bathroom to use the restroom only to find a wet spot on the wall by the toilet. (gasp)

Right.

His delivery needs work, but it was good for an amateur.

So I began my usual line of questioning. What kind of wet spot? What color is it? Did you smell it? Are you sure it was already there and not just bad aim?!?

He quickly assured me that it was already there and that he had no idea how it happened…but that I should see for myself. So I went to investigate the crime scene with him trailing close behind.

Sure enough, there it was. A wet spot, still dripping, directly next to the toilet. So I did what any seasoned mom would do and bent down on hands and knees to smell it.

Perplexed that my keen supermom-senses did not detect any bodily fluids, I sat back on my heels and began to survey the room around me while Hayes stood there anxiously wringing his hands and repeating, “I have no idea what happened…it’s just weird.”

Right.

That’s when I caught sight of faint specks of red on the floor underneath the wet spot and a wad of wet toilet paper by the sink.

“Did you try to wash something off of the wall?”

You’d have thought I had accused him of grand theft, and he was getting 10-20 in the slammer.

Denial, tears, blame (it had to be the brothers…or the dog…or BOTH) ensued while I tried not to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

I wasn’t even mad, at least not about whatever had happened there. I just wanted him to tell me the truth, and I told him so. But the more I prodded him to come clean, the more the frenzy escalated until I finally just sent him to his room before I lost what little patience I had left and said something I would regret. (been there done that…too many times to count)

After a few minutes in the think tank (he does not like to be alone), he came out, sat at the kitchen island, and stared at me.

“Yes?”

Then came the tears, “But I don’t want you to be mad at me.” 

“I’m not.”

“But you are! You have the mad face!”

Sigh….“Ok, a little…but not because of the wet spot or whatever happened with the wet spot. I’m upset about the lying. The wet spot can be fixed easily; the lying is the real problem. That’s harder to fix.”

And that’s when the dam broke…and through the tears and the sniffing (lots of tears and lots of sniffing), I pieced together the sad tale of an 8-year-old who had a bloody nose, ran to the closest bathroom, made a mess on the wall, then tried to clean it up before anyone knew what had happened. How nobody else in the house knew all of this was going on, I will never know.

But in that moment, my heart broke a little.

Don’t get me wrong. He was still in trouble for lying and had to listen to my “Why it’s always better to tell the truth” speech. After 15 years of parenting, it has been fine-tuned and well-rehearsed, so I wasn’t about to waste it.

But what broke my heart was the fact that he was afraid to tell me the truth. Not because it was horrendous. Believe me, all three boys have done worse. Not because of the punishment. He knew he deserved whatever happened. I didn’t even play the “I’m disappointed in you” card, so it couldn’t have been that.

No, he was afraid of my reaction.

How many times have I completely flipped out over a spilled cup, a scratch on the car, a rip in a new pair of pants? How many times have I lost my mind over something little just because I was having a bad day? How many times have I made my children feel like something material, something replaceable, was more important than they are?

Like an arrow to the heart, I realized that I had failed in creating a safe space for them to come and share their mistakes and failures.

Oh sure, they talk to me about all kinds of things. They tell me all about their friends at school, what’s going on in their lives, who is doing what; and I pride myself on being the kind of mom who has an open line of communication with my children.

But when it comes to things like this, things they’ve done wrong and mistakes they’ve made….let’s just say my reaction has been less than inviting.

If they can’t come to me with the little things, how can I expect them to come to me with the big things?! It doesn’t mean there won’t ever be consequences or punishment. Those are part of life, and we have a responsibility as parents to see those through. They know that and expect it, but sometimes they just need a soft place to land when they mess up regardless of the consequences.

I want to be that soft place. I want to be approachable in the little things so they will feel safe enough to come to me with the big things too.

It’s not easy when life is hard, and busy, and stressful. Our nerves are frayed and our tempers are short. The last thing we need is one.more.thing. 

But in the grand scheme of things, what is really more important? Fixing a broken door or fixing a broken spirit?  We all know the answer, but simply asking the question puts it into perspective.

And it doesn’t become easier as they grow older, only harder. So it’s time to create that safe space for my family, that soft place to land. It’s time to show them that their feelings are important, and I love them more than things.

It’s time.

And…

It starts with me. It starts with my reaction. It starts now.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” – James 1:19, 20

 

How Does Birth Order Affect Me As A Parent?

It never ceases to amaze me that we have three children, all the same gender, with vastly different personalities. I mean, completely different. Not even on the same planet different. We wonder if they were switched at birth different.

It’s baffling.

And while I don’t buy into the whole birth order thing 100%, I do think there is some validity to this theory (originally formed by the Austrian psychiatrist, Alfred Adler ). It makes sense….and somewhat explains why our youngest child thinks the world revolves around him. Because in his mind, it does.

But these very differences are what makes them special and unique…what makes life interesting and fun. Each child plays a part in our family and respecting their differences helps them grown into healthy young men.

For instance, take the first born…

  • reliable
  • conscientious
  • organized
  • cautious
  • controlling
  • achieving
  • high self esteem

In other words, our 15-year-old son.

He was practically born into this world a miniature adult, and that was reinforced by the fact that the early years of his life were spent around grownups. (Most of our friends were still single…and hungry. So they came where they knew there would be food.) Because of this, he has never known a stranger and can talk to adults even more comfortably than he can his own age. Firstborns may seem to mature faster because this.

True to his birth order, he’s smart, a natural born leader, hard worker,  an over-achiever…and I totally expect him to make the big bucks and take care of his parents someday. (it’s the least he could do)

Now…sometimes his leadership skills could use some work. Barking orders at his younger brothers and clothes-lining them when they pass will not take him far in life. However, he wants to be an entrepreneur…so maybe it will work for him.

His cautious nature weighs the consequneces of his actions; and if he says he’s going to do something, you can count on the fact that he will. He’s an all around good kid who is going to go far in life.

“Hey! Did you know you can start a snapchat streak with yourself? It’s awesome. I’m smart…I’m funny…I’m super handsome…and I respond pretty fast!” – Xander

And then we have the second born (middle child)….

  • people pleasing
  • somewhat rebellious
  • good friend
  • peacemaker
  • social
  • lower self esteem

This one gets a little tricky. Our 12-year-old son is not necessarily rebellious…or social. However, he is also an introvert, so personality traits definitely play into this theory. But the rest is spot on. I even worried about him being a middle child when he was born, so we gave him my husband’s first name to make him feel special. (My textbook middle child brother-in-law had me paranoid.) 

Because he is also an introvert, he doesn’t have a large number of friends like his brothers, but the ones he has are treasured. Loyal to a fault, he will stand by his buddies even if he doesn’t see them very often

A peacemaker and people pleaser, he hates conflict and will even allow his brothers to have the object of dispute if it means avoiding a fight. (most of the time) And rest assured he will remind us all of such slights and use it to further confirm that we are all against him.

The middle child often gets a bum rap; but, in my opinion, the most wonderful thing about the middle child is the fact that they are, in every way, the middle child. His sweet disposition and quiet charm are the perfect balance to my ambitious firstborn and the last wild one. And let me tell you, we need the break.

Cade: Everyone drinks my drinks. Nothing is sacred.
Hayes: I didn’t see your name on it.
Cade: (writes name on new bottle)
Hayes: I’m still drinking it.
Cade: You suck. I’m sleeping with this tonight.

Finally…last, but certainly not least, we have the third born or baby…

  • fun-loving
  • manipulative
  • outgoing
  • attention seeking
  • self-centered
  • risk taker

This could not more accurately describe our 8-year-old if I had formulated the list myself. He’s the life of the party, the class clown, the star athlete.

With lofty goals of becoming an NFL wide receiver, he hasn’t even considered the fact that it may not happen. He wants to see his name in lights, all eyes on him as he runs his victory lap in this thing called life.

Quick-witted and funny, he often manipulates his way out of trouble, an art his brothers both detest and admire. It’s everything I can do sometimes to suppress a grin…and it completely derails my stern intentions. And.he.knows.it. 

As frustrating as all this may be at times, I love his passion, his fire. He’s a dreamer and puts feet to those dreams. He makes me believe, and I love that.

When the Pastor is telling a story about Abraham and the “good son” (the chosen one with promise), and Hayes gets a big grin on his face…points to himself…and says in a loud whisper, “The other two were mistakes.” 

So what does this all mean to me as a parent?

For a long time, I tried to steer them all in the same direction…treat them all the same. They were all boys, right? That in itself was a mystery to me. Throw in a variety of personalities, temperaments, and interests…and it’s like interpreting hieroglyphics.

But once I started responding to them in a language they understood, motivated them in a way that spoke to their personalities…they started thriving like never before. And, believe me, I’m still learning.

What works for one child (regardless of gender) may not work for another. We know that. But knowing it and applying it are two different things. It takes constant effort, consistency, and prayer.

May I be more mindful as they grow older not only to respond to them in a language they understand but to stay engaged in their lives so that my language shifts with their ever-changing seasons.