Meeting My Kids Where They Are
My 8 month old is teething and possibly experiencing separation anxiety. I am physically and emotionally exhausted because I am “the one” who he seeks for comfort. The days and nights start to run together.
My four-year old has twenty notebooks that she uses to doodle in all day, every day. Notebooks all over the house, random sheets of paper with what appears to be scribbles cluttering her room. I am tempted to dispose of them when she is not around.
My fourteen year old comes home on the third day of school. We chat about her day as I prepare dinner and out of the blue she asks, “What do you do if you don’t get asked to the prom.” This is her third day of high-school and she is worried about being asked to the prom.
These are a few examples of the daily interactions with my children. I can often catch myself getting annoyed, not thoroughly engaging in a conversation or thinking that their activities and requests are petty compared to the big things that my husband and I have to deal with. Health, financial, relationship, and other issues that on our level the kids wouldn’t understand if we tried to explain it to them. I know they wouldn’t because some things we can barely get a grasp on.
It had become easy to break a promise of a story or a walk when something “bigger” came along. It had become easy to feign listening to a story about teenage drama. Drama that I was so glad to have survived during my own high-school years. It had become so easy to become frustrated and almost resentful because of a lack of sleep and to have someone need you constantly without a break in sight.
Hard to admit, but true. Then one evening I watched Poots (four-year old) laying on the floor, feet swinging in the air, humming a tune while she drew and it dawned on me. That is her world. For a moment, I imagined what it must be like to be four. What are your concerns, your delights, what hurts you, scares you and why. My heart began to ache because I realized that all she can see and know is what she has learned this far. I am living life as a thirty-two year old. I’ve experienced life, all that she will come across eventually but she hasn’t experienced all that I have. Everything is new and exciting to her. Every emotion exhilarating and bigger than her sometimes.
In her little eyes drawing her pictures is pretty cool and takes up a large part of her day because it is so much a part of her world. Her drawings are creative and shows her bubbly sense of humor. She wants us to look through every book, help illustrate a story for each page and then read them all. Over and over again. This is how she is experiencing life. It is up to me to meet her where she is and escort her through life. Prepare her for life; relationships, work, hurts and laughter.
I then thought about my little guy. He’s only been here for eight months. Eight months. I expect him to have it figured out. To know that there are other ways to be comforted. Some adults haven’t figured out the proper way to comfort themselves. We sometimes use food, drugs or other self destructive behavior. What’s wrong with relying on your primary caregiver when you are a baby. The one who nurtured and held you tightly for nine months previously. He loves to be around me, on me, touching me in any way. I joke with my husband about how I think sometimes he wishes he was “back in”. My frustration, when I think about it is not with his needs. It really points out that I am not taking care of myself. I am trying to be super mom. When really my kids just need a loving mom.
I often coin the phrase, “you couldn’t pay me to go back to high-school.” I mean it. It wasn’t awful. Just hard and hurtful as you navigate relationships, school and preparing to leave the nest all while finding yourself. What my fourteen year old daughter is dealing with is hands down more difficult a time than I grew up in. I think about what it was like to be her age, in high-school and I remember, this is her world. This is her life right now. A big part of her life. I am lucky that she feels she can share her day and concerns with me and I would be wise to respect it by actually listening. Turn the running water off and look her in her eyes. No more talking to the back of my head.
A friend whose daughter just started college told me something a few years back (she has a similar relationship with her daughter). She said there would be nights when she was exhausted, ready to lay her head down and would hear the soft voice of her daughter asking if they could talk. She initially thought about how tired she was and all she had to do the next day but realized that those things would always be there. The opportunity for her to walk her daughter back to her room, lay across her bed and hear about what was troubling her wouldn’t always be there.
I think of this today as I (once again) reset my priorities. I must meet my kids where they are. In the age and stage of life that they are experiencing. Not the stage of life I am experiencing.