Much of my parenting work would probably better be qualified as “herding.” Meal times, bedtimes, bath times, even play times – it’s a matter of getting the pack moving in the same and right direction. Once they learned the expectation and understand what I’m wanting, it generally works and makes my life efficient enough that I can leave the house on a regular basis.
So when parents ask “how I do it” I’m honest in my response: they lead one another, enjoy one another and learn from one another. It’s a good system, but also the only system I know – I haven’t a clue how to parent only one child or children with an age gap that would require separate toy bins or movie shelves.
But alas, the Terrible Threes are upon us. “People” (whoever they are… liars) call it the terrible twos, but apparently we’ve evolved to delay this period of parental hair pulling because JJ & I consistently stumble into it – a bit cocky at the ease of the 2s, mind you – unaware of what lies before us. The primary symptom in our house? Bedtime. Daily, I yearn for the clock to tick upward, while I also maintain a seed of dread for what could be ahead.
We finally grew out of this with H Boy a few months ago, to my sheer delight. After a rather rough evening (in a span of several months of rough evenings), he and I had a bit of a heart-to-heart one morning about my expectations of him as a “big boy” when it came to nightly routine. His shenanigans halted nearly immediately. The angels sang a hallelujah chorus.
Thus, 3 days later, Miss M picked up where H Boy left off. I could’ve cried. Ok. I have.
This week, likely due to the recent changes in bedroom situations, brought especially frustrating evening hours. And everything we’ve tried that had traditionally worked for H, even the “last straw” moves, met willful resistance with Miss M. Nothing worked.
While I realize in theory that “every kid is different” and I try to adjust to these inconsistencies – H eats his stir fry veggie by veggie, no rice, shrimp first; M likes veggies on rice, no shrimp, C pretty much will only eat the rice if possible – the practice of raising very different children is challenging. I can herd away with different personalities but rather than the strategies I’m seeking, what I need is to learn how to love differently for each child.
Tonight, because H Boy decided it was Napless Wednesday, he headed to bed first. Lady C followed. But Miss M joined her daddy for some outside work and a round of soccer. She came in beaming.
Though we still encountered a few blips (a needed water refill, some kicking of walls) it was overall subdued compared to previous evenings. Perhaps it was because I was hopeful and wanting things to be better. This could all be in the eyes of the beholder, and I’ll be honest – my attitude about it has been quite negative. Very woe is me.
But in my heart of hearts, I know what she needs is some special “her” time with each of her parents. We expect so much of her – to keep with what H Boy is doing while watching out and helping Lady C. And so much of the recent change (ie, the room switch, not to mention an impending baby) isn’t her fault. Yet we expect her to roll with the punches without argument. These things weren’t her decision, yet she’s living with the consequences – in her room, as it may be.
So yes, I need more patience and grace for her. But I believe I also simply need more – different – love for her. To show her she’s as special as everyone else by engaging in things with her. Just her.
And again, it takes me to what God often feels in His dealings with us. He doesn’t blanket us all with the same kind of love. Equal and abounding, yes. But he speaks to each of us a unique love language that our hearts want and need. Some “herding” may be required, yet His love is personal to each child. Not only do I feel overwhelmed by thinking how does He do that? but I also get lost in gratitude that He loves so much that He would pursue each of us in a deeply personal way. He doesn’t just appreciate or acknowledge or navigate the differences between each of His children; He creates them specifically to be that way. Apparently, a bit of His glory dwells in each of us that wouldn’t been experienced otherwise.
It’s time to take that same understanding of my own children – which is one reason why JJ and I have loved the idea of big families in the first place. It’s in the uniqueness, the differences, the elements you can’t quite put a finger on but that bring a smile to your face, that a richer experience of the world exists.
So, here’s to loving them, each and every. And yet another one. (Well, in another 6 weeks or so).