I wrote a concise little blog on this topic a few months back, but now I really feel like I can go a little deeper into the issue. I am no parenting expert, nor do I believe there is only one, specific, unwavering way to raise children. But I DO have a difficult child, and am learning quite a bit in the process of raising – and loving – him. I’m not naming names, but let’s just say it’s not the oldest one, and it’s not the youngest one. I’ll leave it up to your imagination. He has always been difficult. I remember our pediatrician trying to tell me in between my desperate sobs that some babies just don’t need as much sleep. He rarely napped and didn’t sleep very long. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who slept 14 hours straight at night and took 2-hour naps. I remember the night he discovered he could escape from his crib, because he did it more than 30 times. That one, single night. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who climbed out once and was so sad to have been in trouble for it that he never did it again. I remember the first time I punished him and he laughed at me. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who is so sad to have disappointed me that I rarely have to punish him. This difficult child of mine (who shall remain unnamed, remember, you’re still guessing at who it could possibly be) is stubborn, willful, volatile at times. He is easily angered, easily frustrated, and easily entertained by acting on any impulse he has. Covered in scars and dripping with swagger, he is unmoved by the concept of cause and effect. I’ve said it before that he knows about gravity, he just doesn’t care. He climbs walls, he leaps from furniture, he talks back, he gets into trouble at school, and he is extremely difficult to parent. This is particularly frustrating when I compare him to my firstborn, who is compliant, people-pleasing, a teacher’s pet, and pretty easy to parent. You can probably guess what the first thing is that I’ve learned in my journey of parenting a difficult child: you can’t compare. Comparison is the thief of joy. In parenting ANY child, comparison will only leave you frustrated and doubting yourself. One of the best days I’ve had as a mother was when the lightbulb went off, when it clicked that my two boys are different people. The more I compared the unnamed mystery wild child to the older, tiny-adult-like child, the more I was setting us both up to fail. He will never be his older brother, and that is a GOOD thing. He is unique. I don’t need two of the same kid. God spent a lot of time making him, with intention, and it was high time I started appreciating him for who he was, rather than getting frustrated at who he wasn’t. Milestones, demeanors, and reactions are as varied as likes, dislikes, and fingerprints between two same-gender siblings from the same gene pool. Wild.
Another thing I’ve learned while parenting my difficult child is that it sucks. This echoes my sentiments from the previous blog, yes, but allow me to elaborate: it really sucks. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s EMBARRASSING. It’s isolating. I cannot tell you, dear reader, how many books and blogs and journals and wise sages I’ve sought in my attempts to tame the unruly beast, all spanning different belief systems, based on different foundations, and implemented in different ways. But the one common thread is consistency. Be consistent. If it was against the rules yesterday, it has to be against the rules today, no matter how tired you are. But oh, Lord, how tired we are. How truly, bone-achingly exhausted, drained, depleted, worn we are. Every single incident, every single day, in the hopes that it will someday *click* and he’ll get it. It can make a mommy numb. It can make a mommy dejected, make her feel hopeless. Afraid to leave him with a sitter because his behavior is embarrassing, afraid to go to the splash pad because he may act up, it leaves a mommy feeling alone. Tears over what’s happening and fears over what’s to come, parenting a difficult child is, well, difficult.
The final, most important, most incredibly hard thing to grasp that I’ve learned while parenting this difficult middle child of mine (don’t act surprised, you knew it was him all along) is that it is not my fault. No argument that was ever presented to me in college has ever made me think more about nature vs. nurture than raising a strong-willed child. Sure, there are kids who act a fool because of their parents’ foolish ways, but having this handful has given me a new, more sympathetic perspective. Not every kid who talks back or doesn’t listen or has a moment is the result of bad parenting. The mom you’re judging is likely nearing dehydration from all the exasperated tears she’s cried. We know our kids are rough, it’s not something that escapes a parents’ attention. Not every difficult child “needs to be set straight”. How do I know this? Because I’m a good mom, dangit. I know I am. I do everything I’m “supposed” to and then some. He is loved, disciplined, fed well and put to bed on time. We engage and take an interest in him, he is physically active, intelligent, and socialized. And yet he acts like a real butthead sometimes. He will always have a consequence for his disobedience, yet he still chooses to disobey. This is particularly ENCOURAGING when I compare him to my firstborn, who is from the same gene pool, is of the same gender, and is raised in the same home with the same rules, love, and attention. Two wildly different fruits of the same tree prove to me that the roots aren’t to blame, it’s just how the fruits ARE. He just IS how he is. It is no fault of my own, it’s only up to me to adapt and learn what he needs and marry that with what is expected of him. And THAT is nearly as hard as not blaming myself for my child’s behavior. I’m a good mom. This is not a cop-out, it’s a revelation. The sooner we can let go of the guilt, the sooner we can address what REALLY is causing behaviors and deal with them with an appropriate amount of attention. It is not my fault. As I sit here, my face red and tear-stained, debating just giving him an iPad for a few minutes of peace, I notice a dandelion and feel God speak to me. Dandelions are weeds. Unsightly and dreaded by gardeners. They’re stubborn, unruly, and difficult to get rid of. The more you tug at them, the harder the fight, and the more likely you are to find more dandelions next week. Just like my difficult baby. He doesn’t fit into what would be considered ideal, pristine. No one WANTS dandelions, they just pop up. But consider them for a moment. Difficult, yes, but vibrant with color. They stand out instantly not because of our feelings towards dandelions, but because they are different, bright. Dandelions can provide healing and nourishment. They undergo marked transformations, and are the stuff of childhood wishes. They spread their seeds with the wind, quickly, and all too soon are gone. Just like our difficult babies. Stubborn, tough, and not “ideal”, but beautiful in their own way, quickly-growing, and valuable. My dandelion literally grows like a weed, but he is also incredibly intelligent, creative, talented, funny, thoughtful, and can be painfully sweet. I can compare him to roses, tulips, or lilies, and he will always fall short, because he is a dandelion. Or I can appreciate his vibrancy and his limited time with me and be happy I have a flower at all. What if we all saw our own dandelions not for the pain and hassle they cause, but for the wishes we can make upon them? Hang in there, you, me. We’re not alone, it’s okay to admit we’re struggling. Having a hard time doesn’t mean we love them any less, or that we’re not doing a good job. It just means our precious little ones act like buttheads sometimes