By Carissa Douglas
Author of The Little Douglings Series
TO THE PARENTS WHO FEEL LIKE THEY'RE FAILING AT THIS PARENTING THING... IT MAY NOT BE YOU - IT JUST MIGHT BE THEM.
I say this with full confidence as I've spent the day dealing with the one child, in a family of eleven children, who generally consumes 95% of my energy.
The other day, my seven year old interrupted my phone conversation. "She's using my toothbrush to scrub the inside of the toilet!!!" I nodded, blanked-faced. I knew exactly what child she was talking about. I calmly told my daughter to throw out the toothbrush and went to put her two-year old sister in yet another time-out. In my mind, I was trying not to dwell on the high probability that she had done this before, completely unbeknownst to the poor owner of the toothbrush.
The thing is, I'm no longer surprised at the risky, troublesome, chaotic, disastrous, ugly messes my little one gets herself into, because having many children with varying traits and personalities has given me some sweet perspective. So much so that I can honestly say that sometimes it is indeed 100% THEM.
You can be an amazing parent with great strategies for motivating, disciplining and forming your children, but then you get that one kid (or two) who makes you feel like you have the parenting skills of a blind, disoriented buffoon (or baboon for those who prefer animals to humans). These wild cards are treasures beyond the vocal range in the height of their tantrums. They are God's blessing to parents who feel like somehow their children who listen the first time, follow instructions and sit nice and quietly during Mass are simply products of excellence in parenting. These little heaven sent maniacs are the ones who restore our humility. They remind us that as good as we may have been in establishing our expectations with our children, we've been sustained considerably by God and that there are other factors at play when it comes to the level of obedience displayed by our little ones.
In our daughter's case, her mischievous endeavors are a result of an overly imaginative and curious mind that needs to know how everything works from the inside out. She's also fearless and surprisingly athletic, ready to climb to any height, Spider-Man style, to secure whatever treasure she covets. When she was 18 months old she had already mastered climbing out of her crib even at the lowest mattress setting. We considered adding a lid to the crib with a big, heavy duty lock, but realized it would then resemble a dog crate and child services probably wouldn't like that.
She's extremely clever, easily figuring out how to get into things or do things that leave adults baffled. She's tenacious, independent, strong willed and ready to persevere (tantrum style) to achieve her goals. I'm also convinced that she sees the world in grey, except for everything dangerous and off limits - those things glow bright red and are accompanied by special instructive signs: EAT THIS, TOUCH THIS, OPEN THIS, BREAK THIS, STICK THIS IN YOUR NOSE - LIKE WAAAAY UP THERE (see title image). These gems (pun intended) are destined for great things. They have the makings of strong future leaders, inventors or overall game changers, even if it means prompting current parental nervous breakdowns.
My brother-in-law entered his family room, with a look of mixed concern and disgust. "Um, your daughter is standing on our dining room table." I mustered an apology and said, "Right. I'm on it." I knew he was totally freaked out and I was just like, "business as usual".
Because aside from the promise of greatness in these adventurous, extra demanding little ones, they bless their parents a special gift. We eventually become resilient. By the time they've plowed through childhood, we've seen, faced and (hopefully) conquered EVERYTHING! I've become 90% more laid back and optimistic since having a couple of these big handfuls. Finding our little one standing on the table, while it comes with a possible screaming removal process and subsequent time-out (perhaps tied to a chair this time), well, it makes me feel quite grateful. Why? Because I start thinking about other incidents we've faced and am just so relieved that there wasn't a chandelier hanging over the table - or she would have been swinging on it or licking all the crystals - although, secretly I would have loved to have seen my brother-in-law's face if that had been the case!
It's all about perspective and she's forever changed mine!
Also, being given a "bundle of trouble" is a nod from God. Because He only gives you what you can handle (with your hand securely fixed in His), so He must REALLY trust me!
But sometimes, as the great philosopher Anonymous says: "I just wish He didn't trust me so much!" It's a lot of work chasing a naked human being around in your backyard, praying the neighbors are safely in their homes, far away from their windows. It's all very consuming: emotionally, mentally, and physically.
I find great comfort looking to Saints Louis and Zelie, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, who raised a very stubborn, spirited child, prone to extensive tantrums - they even had to tie her in bed at night for her own protection (crib crate would've been better). They struggled, but managed to raise one of the most notable saints! So there is hope!
I've also come to acknowledge that of all our children, this little one takes after me the most, so she comes by it honestly! And thankfully, I've now crowned my childhood with at least one significant act of obedience: I graciously fulfilled the wish of my parents by growing up and having a kid just like me. Maybe she'll do the same, or at least join a convent and stir up some serious mischief like Saint Therese, our friendly neighborhood Doctor of the Church.