I draw distinct differences between my children and the general population of children. As in, I love mine, but I could give or take on the rest of them. I’m just not a “kid person.” My friend Jill is. She’s great with little people (good job choosing the kindergarten teacher profession, btw). But other people’s little ones just aren’t my bag.
(Related: I feel this way about dogs, too. I like mine. I don’t like dogs. I’m not a dog person, I’m just a my dog person. Surely other people have this trait?)
So when my friend A asked me to help out by watching her littlest boy for a few days so she could catch up on some CEUs, I was in a conundrum. There was that whole other-people’s-kids thing, but the bigger part of me likes to be helpful and this is what would help. So I spent two days with her little guy (who looks so remarkably similar to Lady C that it looked like I was even crazier than I normally look toting all 5 around. His age was right in the middle of my biggest gap. #amish?)
The little guy was a delight. Such a sweetheart, so easy to get along with. I’m nearly rethinking my other-people’s-kids thing. He didn’t much appreciate my pack ‘n play for napping, but adored the car seat and my living room floor, so we got along splendidly. And my kids loved having him around – it was like having a new baby, but without pregnancy and labor and breastfeeding or getting up in the middle of the night!
I also noticed a change in my mothering. I became more patient. My voice lost its shrillness even when I was frustrated. We even hurried less. I expected to get less done but still cranked out some work-tasks during naptime.
With our little guest I had become more aware of how I dealt with conflict and my expectations realigned. I subconsciously didn’t want yelling or tension to be a part of his experience, so I refrained. He can’t even talk yet, so it really wasn’t self-preservation (though I’d be ashamed if he could go home and tell mom “all she did was yell.”)
After I realized the positive changes thanks to a guest, I had to wonder: why will I try so hard to create a positive environment for other people’s kids, yet put less effort into it for only my own? Why do other kids get the Best Mom I can offer?
It’s a strange reversal. Imagine if we loved all kids with the fierceness that we love our own children. If communities truly lived as if we belong to one another, then children wouldn’t grow up doubting people’s goodness like they do. We save our best love for the few under our roof.
The reverse is also true. Imagine if we treated our own children with the care and awareness as we do other’s children. If we asked kindly instead of shouted, if we believed this little one’s mother was watching over our shoulder to see how we treated them with respect and kindness instead of following our frustrated or time-crunched emotions. We save our best behavior for the masses going home to other families.
So often this is true beyond child-discipline issues. We’re kind to the people at work and give our best efforts yet when we walk in the door we simply want to sit in a dark room and be alone. We walk into the church ready to bask in the light of God and get huffy with our spouse on the way home. We emotionally spend on those outside and leave nothing for those who ask us to refill their cups and turn off the light each night.
How I wish it wasn’t so for me.
Some of it is the nature of our jobs. Working with people is hard. Helping professionals (teachers, social service, churches and the like) pour and pour, realizing the danger of coming home dry. SAHM’s work and work at trying to do it well and when their spouse walks in we have no kisses left.
The ones we love most see it the least.
The goal shouldn’t be to take our love and energies away from others. Perhaps it’s not redirecting love or behavior, but rather growing it. Controlling the monster within who believes I can be mean without repercussion because they’re family.
I live by the philosophy that they’re not really mine, simply on loan for a while, and combined with this experience, I had better see some changes in behavior. I need time appreciating them and these precious days left (as the eldest will run of to school much too quickly in the future). I must lower my productivity expectations and raise the bar for being fully present with them at times through the day. (The whole day? No way. Kids grow into well adjusted adults by venturing off and playing together – but my hours are limited to have them to myself, so perhaps I could choose them over Facebook or Zulily or the pile of resumes on my work desk).
Thanks, little man, for joining our family circle for a few days. You made me a better mom.