My third-born developed a pattern: when she’s lonely, she’s destructive. The moments that we we want her to go and play like a nice little girl, she shoves herself back into our line of vision, sometimes with a crayon on our wall. She can’t contain her emotions and will react to small frustrations with bites upon her older siblings. Usually, she’s asking for something (a nap or a cuddle most often) but she uses the wrong words. The wrong means.

As a mother, especially of many, sometimes I don’t want to have to give that to her. I might prefer reprimand and get angry that she took her aggressive feelings out on other things and people. It’s inconvenient to sit and listen and hold, especially when I cannot identify with her feelings of frustration that come with broken crayons or a brother that won’t do as he’s told. These seem like pretty insignificant ordeals in my world, but to her corner of the universe, they matter. On my Good Mom Days, if they matter to her, they matter to me. That’s how things like empathy, kindness and love take root in a heart and grow us into beings that recognize the holiness in all things and people.

I chose not to learn a darn thing about Ferguson (chastise me later). I don’t know the names, the actions, the anything. I know there’s a police side and a black side and a whole lot of feelings. For a second just join me over here and set your opinion aside. I want you to hear me clearly. I’m not talking about agreeing or disagreeing with a grand jury right now. I don’t know who or what to agree or disagree with, and knowing my track record, I probably agree with everyone.

Right now there is a population of people who is so angry, they feel the need to burn things in order to get our attention. We might want to yell and discipline, but if we’re good humans, we should stop and question why riots have to happen in order to get our country to talk about race.

We have brothers and sisters in this country trying to say something. They’re telling us about a hurt, something so outside our immediate context that we have difficulty identifying with them. We want to blow it off, tell them to stop the current behavior and believe we’ve fixed a problem. Hear me: I’m not justifying behavior. I don’t like crayons on my walls nor fire in my streets. It’s not okay. But behavior modification will not fix this problem – it’s a symptom of a larger issue.

My three-year-old has taught me about human nature in her action. She has also shined a light on my propensity to gloss over her very real hurt with my reaction. Finally, in the third year of raising the third kid, when we see these behaviors I have come to ask myself, “does she need something from me that I’m not giving her?” The answer is nearly always, yes. She needs my attention. She needs me to hear. She needs me to try to imagine her world and what this is like. When I give her those basic internal needs, she exhibits the kind and loving behavior we seek from her. Her behavior has a direct correlation with her sense of security and place in our family dynamic.

What we lack in understanding, may we make up for in a willingness to listen to the real request of these behaviors.

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