Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Love them anyway.

My kids have been trying to kill each other for about a week.  It started when we were out of town visiting friends last weekend, and I let them eat whatever they wanted because we weren’t at home and I had to relinquish control over my son’s specific dietary restrictions a bit.  (Oh, and Monica, if you are reading this...of course I miss you more than I miss your keg, but I really miss your keg.  *sniff*)  I could tell almost immediately that his relaxed diet was impacting his behavior, but ever since, I haven’t been able to get the mellow child I love to move back in.  He has been replaced with the evil twin, the one who menaces, hits, bites, taunts his sister, flails his limbs about in random patterns, doesn’t listen to anything I say, and is overall so rowdy and rambunctious that a couple of days ago, I nearly hoped that a band of gypsies would show up at my door offering money in exchange for children.  No reasonable offer would have been refused.  (By that time, his sister was right in the trenches with him, because bad behavior breeds more bad behavior.  I was ready to sell them both.) 

Then, today, it finally occurred to me that there is one thing I haven’t tried to get the wild wildebeests to start acting like graceful gazelles.  I had been so busy taking things away, making threats, and removing privileges that I had neglected to consider what was most likely at the root of the behavior.  I have been preoccupied with my own worries lately and not investing in them as much as I could; possibly all my kids needed was some love and attention from me to make them lovable again.  Ironically enough, the time when children often need to be loved the most is usually when they deserve to be loved the least.  This is not to say that children don’t deserve unconditional love; they just know how to work the nerves of their parents to see if that love can be tested to the end that it no longer exists.  Fortunately, for most parents, that is never possible.

Tonight, I wrapped my kids up in lots of hugs and kisses, way more than I have given them for a while.  I spent time talking to them and snuggled up to read with them instead of doing the things that I wanted to do for myself.  I laughed with my son while I had him trapped in a big embrace and promised I would not let go until he was at least 48 years old.  I listened to my daughter singing one of her spontaneous improvisational songs, and realized how much I still love to hear her singing randomly about whatever she happens to be thinking of at the moment.  She has been making up songs like that since she learned to talk, but one day I know that sweet, small sound will no longer grace my presence.  I still cherish it.  And finally, I realized that for all they do to try to send me to an early grave, they give me such an abundance of love and joy in return that all I have to do is shift my focus and I can recognize again how much I love them.

Giving love when we don't feel it, when we have to reach deep within ourselves to find it, is often the most challenging task of parenting, and of life in general.  But it is also one of the most important and rewarding skills we can develop.  I started learning how to do it when I first got married; I learned more about it when I became a mother; and I have ample opportunity now to practice it as a friend, daughter, sister, ex-wife, and still, a parent.  It takes effort to step back and think of what we can give instead of trying to get what we want for ourselves.  But when we get outside of our own comfort zone enough to do something for someone who may not deserve it at that moment, I believe we have finally started to discover what love truly is.  


Kim V. said...

It really is hard being a parent, isn't it? I know my kids have taught me way more lessons than I have them.

Keep hugging on those kids and you will do a fine job.

Sherrie said...

Hugs and laughter always make a difference. When my teen and tween are in rare form, I remind them that I love them anyway. Sometimes it mellows them out, sometimes not. If only we could rent them out on the bad days, eh?

Erica said...

You've given me a good lesson to remember, AM. Take a breath, put away the irritation, and give (and take) a big hug.