Tonight was a hard night for me. This post will be a hard post to write. Not because a child was sick, or hurt, or because anything really dramatic happened. But because I had to break a child. Or, a child’s habit. A habit I helped her create, helped her hone, and realized was out of control.
It’s my oldest. And her inability to have any care or concern for what I ask of her. Especially at bedtime. For four years, I have allowed her to use excuses, reasonings, and ploys to avoid sleep. For my part, I have instituted lazy parenting and selfish desires in my parenting of her behavior. I have allowed her to show a lack of respect for me and my parenting by letting her win, or achieve her wants over mine.
I knew this day was coming. I suppose, I wished, that it never would.
Katie’s lack of discipline about bedtime is now spilling over into daily life. She is talking back, sassing at any little direction, and willfully acting out. I know why it is. It does not take a psychologist to see that she is asking for attention and I am lacking in the knowledge of how to give it to her. I suppose they all are lacking attention and my naive attempts at pretend parenting are doing more harm than good.
So, tonight, when bedtime came, and Katie was clearly tired and beyond any level reasoning or control, I took her to her room. Trusting that my husband could handle the other two while I actually parented through a bedtime for once, I closed the door under the guise of wanting to read every book on her shelf.
We read three and she was ready to go. To leave, cause mayhem, and start her nightly flight of fancy. I said a quick prayer that God give me a strength and guidance that I lacked, and got up to block her from leaving her room. As she laughed at me, kicked and played as if she were going around me, I stood my ground. Words were not needed as I had already decided that this war of determination and wills was mine, for once, no matter what the cost.
I got her back to her bed – sat down next to her and listened as she berated and yelled at me. She screamed, kicked, got angrier than I have ever seen her and tried to escape. Time after time, I caught her, hugged her until she calmed, and put her back in her bed. She kicked, she hit, she spit, she laughed with delirium, and I cried… more than a few times. Wondering how I could have raised such a demeaning and hateful child, I accepted my failures as she laughed when I did and I listened to my heart tear.
At times, I was baffled. Her teachers tell me she is a gem. Easy, loving, kind to her friends. They tell me she is a sort of referee and won’t let kids pick on others. She listens, is polite, and understands her boundaries.
Where is that girl when we are at home? Why do I get the mean, ornery, difficult part of her? I mean, there are moments of greatness, obviously. But when it comes to manners or doing something she does not want to do, it is a full on war of wills with me and her father. And it is exhausting. And so clearly out of control.
So, tonight, I stood my ground. Not at all confident that my restraining her and making her stay in her bed was the right thing, I portrayed a parent I am not used to channeling. The one that let’s nothing fly by her. No game, no gimmick, no false harm.
She tried. She fought, made empty promises, cried, and exhibited demonic frustration. She told me she did not love me, wanted to leave, wanted her daddy, and other heart wrenching, pathetically effective words. But I held my ground. Calmly telling her time after time that I was not leaving until she was safely asleep.
When it happened, that peaceful slumber I had prayed for, I did not believe it. I sat, watching my 4 year old sleep, so new to this life, so fresh to this mother. I prayed for her, thanked God for the strength, patience,and resolve, and pushed her hair gently behind her ear. I let tears fall, knowing I had created a memory she would recall one day when she needed verification of a hurt. A memory only I would know was necessary.
I walked out of her room, leaned against it, and breathed deeply. My husband said, “Good Job” and I wondered, “Was it?”
I got the result, but at what cost. And wasn’t the entire episode indicative of my failures to begin with? So, when, exactly, did I do a good job?
I am not a bad mother. I am not. And I do take my parenting very seriously. But I make mistakes. And letting this get out of hand to the point where I am responding to her instead of the other way around is my certain mistake.
I can only pray that the hard work I put in tonight, the two full hours of making her mind me a priority, pays off in the long run. And that in starting to break her behaviors, I don’t break her spirit.
This parenting stuff is tough. And when it is hard, I want to run. Look for the easiest path to peace. The solution that gets me to the result the fastest, with no understanding that the creating of that moment is shaping a response. One I will pay for in the end.
So my new found resolve comes with humility, and lessons.
Because when it is hard… it hurts.