I read in a great parenting book, Discipline Without Distress, that how we respond to our kids greatly depends on our mood, not their behavior. For instance, if your child just spilled grape juice all over your white carpet and you just came in from an eight hour work day, don’t know what you’re having for dinner, sat in rush hour traffic, and lost your debit card, your reaction to the carpet incident is probably going to be not so good. However, if you just won the lottery, the carpet is probably not going to be an issue.
I keep trying to remember this as we enter the tantrum phase. My daughter is mellow, smart, a gorgeous doll 90% of the time. However, the other 10 % she has started acting out, especially since we began the weaning process. She doesn’t particularly act out at anyone but me. Don’t get me wrong; Dennis definitely gets his share of the moods and the crying, and the things-aren’t-going-my-way tantrums. However, I get hit. That’s right, people. I’m suffering parent abuse. When I tell Wren no milk, at least not from my tots, she hits me. Hard. On purpose. With anger in her eyes. And when I tell her we don’t hit, she either hits me again or laughs.
I know hitting is a developmental phase they go through. I’ve seen all my nieces and nephews go through it, and they are perfectly well adjusted human beings. Most of the time I can even tell her we don’t do that, walk away and not be bothered by it. But this is the last two weeks of school locked in a room with 8th graders. Forgive me now for griping because I am off for two months after this, but it is not good right now. This is when you detach from your students and wish them luck next year in high school because you just don’t want them back. Most of them are great, but there will still be very little chance of me crying at the end of the year ceremony this year. And I’m pregnant. That says a lot.
Unfortunately, my at-work experience does color my mood when I get home. The fact that Dennis is in school until after 10 two nights a week is also a factor since there is no one to help me run interference when the craziness begins. I depend on him and his calm demeanor so much that it’s like missing a portion of me when he’s gone. But I want Wren to see a consistent parent, a parent who is not just reacting out of having a bad day. We have chosen not to spank, and I’ve honestly never been tempted to. However, I do sometimes roll my eyes or react in a more negative way than I mean to. Sometimes it’s because I didn’t sleep well, or I have other things on my mind, or I’m pregnant and hungry and none of the food at my disposal looks enticing. But I don’t want my attitude toward my child to be circumstantial. It’s like someone saying they’re only mean when they’re drunk. Then don’t drink. I can’t always avoid being tired, but I can have better control over the way I act.
A great example was the other night when we were attempting more weaning. I was exhausted, it was two am, and Wren had an ear infection and pink eye. For two weeks she didn’t even request milk at night, but it’s all she really wants when ear infections hit. So, Dennis and I broke our rule and let her nurse. I thought it would be a ten minute thing, get some milk and go back to sleep. Two hours later, I was still nursing. This is unusual to say the least, but when she nursed she didn’t grab her ear and wail in pain so I wasn’t going to pull her off. Usually I can go back to sleep while she is nursing. Now, I have pregnancy boobs. I am hyper aware of anything near them. Sleep wasn’t going to happen.
So I laid there exhausted, contemplating what my work day would be like on four hours of sleep, trying to find a comfortable position to lay in with a baby in my belly and a baby on my boob. I heard the slow, methodic breathing signaling my husband had found his way back to peaceful sleep. Briefly, I thought about kicking him. I watched my daughter pounce from side to side wondering how thirsty a child could be, though I knew it was comfort feeding. I felt guilty for being so bitter when she was sick, but I was tired. I was sleepy, and to top it off, in the middle of this my stomach started growling. Tired and hungry. I do not fair well under these circumstances.
We made it through the night, but my attitude was not great. When morning came, nothing looked nearly as bad as it had, but I hated myself for not being a more grateful person. Grateful for a healthy child, and grateful for a nursing child because I do love breastfeeding her; grateful that I wasn’t having to do this every night and that it was just a need she had right then; grateful for my husband who I had thought of physically assaulting just hours before for doing nothing more than sleeping. I had failed this test miserably. There was no excuse.
God’s love, thankfully, does not depend on his mood. If I really want to be the ultimate parent, I have the perfect example. And I can be laying in bed thinking of how I don’t need to feel the way I do, but sometimes I feel like I can’t stop it. In those moments, I should pray. However, I have a real issue going to God when I am being petty. It may be from all those days in Vacation Bible School where I took from the lessons that Jesus was a character on a flannel board who did not emote. I used to read the Bible as if it my brain was monotone. I didn’t acknowledge or understand that God got frustrated and that wasn’t a sin. He didn’t just smile, move around the flannel board, and not acknowledge problems. He emoted, had feelings, laughed, cried, got upset. It’s okay. Even knowing this as an adult I cannot get out of my head that when I go to God and talk about how tired I am laying in my three bedroom house with air conditioning, a healthy child, and a comfy queen size bed, he is secretly laughing at me. I know that’s not the case. He loves unconditionally, even when I’m being petty and juvenile. He would probably prefer me come to Him on my bad days so I don’t take them out on the people around me. I need to grow up and do that. It will help me be a better parent. It might even help me be a better overall person.