Maddie has always been a challenge, for various reasons. Year Two of her life proved that time and again, and Year Three is shaping up to be no exception. As with all toddlers, she is a walking contradiction where screaming to let her do something herself is followed by, “Can you help me?” in the same breath. She is stubborn, and sneaky, and so often has the appearance of looking for mischief.
So it’s no surprise that we often butt heads. The year that has passed since the babies joined our family has been rough on my relationship with this spunky, spit-fire little girl. (Adding new members to your family is a huge adjustment anytime, but adding multiple babies when you’ve just turned two is a doozie.) She’s always loved the boys and hasn’t expressed much overt jealousy, but just her stage of development alone makes it difficult for her to be gentle with them at all times, or to be more help than hindrance when I’m trying to take care of their needs. It’s gotten better as she’s gotten older, but it’s still a struggle sometimes.
And I must admit, for too long I’ve been less than patient with her antics. On some days, I’ve been downright mean in my frustration.
When I heard this General Conference talk last spring, I felt the message speak directly to me.
One part, in particular, stood out to me as something I needed to address in my parenting attitude:
A sweet and obedient child will enroll a father or mother only in Parenting 101. If you are blessed with a child who tests your patience to the nth degree, you will be enrolled in Parenting 505. Rather than wonder what you might have done wrong in the premortal life to be so deserving, you might consider the more challenging child a blessing and opportunity to become more godlike yourself. With which child will your patience, long-suffering, and other Christlike virtues most likely be tested, developed, and refined? Could it be possible that you need this child as much as this child needs you?
(“What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?” Elder Lynn G. Robbins, The Ensign, May 2o11.)
Of course! Maddie is my most challenging child (at least at this time) and so I’ve been fixating on her negatives more than her positives for so long that sometimes it’s been difficult to appreciate the blessing she is in my life. I needed to change myself, not her, in order to find peace in our relationship.
How was I going to get there, I didn’t know. I felt like it was getting worse despite being made aware. But with daily prayers pleading for forgiveness, renewed humility, and a desire to be more of an example of Christ, I decided I’d better figure out a way.
And then one late night talking to Christy during her visit here changed my perspective, hopefully permanently. Maddie’s actions were out of my control, but my own reactions, responses, and choices were mine to choose. Did I have to be angry that she kicked Joey and then kicked me when I put her in her room for time out? No. I could choose to be calm and place her gently on the floor instead of heaving her in and snapping, “NO!” at her through clenched teeth.
So here is my revolutionary plan for parenting: be nice. That’s it.
When I want to yell at her to stop, I use a soft voice to give her the options instead. When I want to throw her on her bed and slam the door, I quietly walk her to her room and ask her to come out when she’s ready to be kind. I hug her more, even when I don’t like the choice she’s made. And when I can’t find a way to feel kind, I take a deep breath and walk away myself. Sometimes I’m the one who needs the time out.
It’s worked. She’s still feisty. She still pushes the limits and many, many buttons, but I feel a whole lot calmer. It’s been months since I made this decision and it’s only gotten better.
I love this girl in an extraordinary way. I’m grateful I get to be her mother. I’m hoping that (besides getting the worst of it out before her teenage years) these stubborn, tough, independent aspects of her personality can be channeled for good. I hope that I have the wisdom and self-discipline necessary to help her get there.