Still Loving Him Anyway

Raising my little angels has been a journey with challenges I never anticipated. Just the other night I was commenting to my GG, "Man, this is the hardest job I've ever done. And I had to take organic chemistry!" Concepts like polymerization and hydrolysis sound energizing? and fun?! O Lord, help me!


I have to be honest, though, it really isn't motherhood as a whole that has been putting me into tangles lately. It's the challenge of mothering one of my children, in particular, that confounds me.

I really am trying. I am praying a lot. I am consistent. I am creative. I am energizing and encouraging. I am mean when I have to be. Every day is a new day with hope and possibility; with opportunity for success and obedience. Though for some reason or another, I lose it. I start each day with new, refreshed patience and by the end of it, I'm toast. I've lost all hope for his future. I'm bummed, whipped, and depressed. This is so hard. It's always been hard with him. And I'm here to report that at age 4, it still is.

I deal often enough with my fair share of mommy guilt, feeling like I'm not doing what I should, slacking in certain areas, raising my voice too often. It can be difficult to wade through and can pull me down into its quagmire. I hate the thought of my mommy self-esteem being pulled so low to the point of guilt. But, really, when one is working as hard as this, shouldn't I be seeing more results? Can anyone out there relate?

I am spent and discouraged. My downtrodden tone pulls others down.

My brain begins to wonder: when will this end? Will it end? Will this be the child we endure for a lifetime? The one that we'll wince at when he embarrasses us by his rude adult behavior?

But, gosh, I love him more than the world.
I will not give up.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Phil. 3:12-14

25 comments:

Oh, B! Courage! This child will, I am certain, continue to be your most difficult, but in the end he will make you the most proud. My oldest has challenged me every single day.

Continue to do what you are doing, with one exception: do not worry! This drains our energy more than any of the actual tasks of mothering.

I know a boy from a large Catholic family who was a hard partying teen, popular, good looking, all around great secular guy, the kind a Christian mother might worry about every night.

After some time in the Navy, he joined a very strict religious order. We were all a bit surprised, so I asked him what he thought his parents did to most influence his vocation. He said, with certainty, my mother prayed the rosary every day.

So, do what you can, and ask God to do the rest. Once you have asked, have perfect faith that somehow it is all working towards the good.

June 9, 2009 at 11:26 AM  

B-Mama,

Thanks for the honesty of this post! I know there are many, many, many, other mothers out there struggling with one or several of their children. I have similar issues with my youngest, Augustine, and I wonder if he will ever mature and start to be an easier child. He is currently only 17 months, but he has been tough since birth! While some of his issues are temperament, they also have a physical component, and that can be tough. I had a week last week where I felt exactly as you feel now towards M. I fear we have many more years of this ahead...

I think at times like these, when you are feeling particularly ill-equipped at dealing with M's behaviors, it is really important to pray. God will give you the grace to be the best mother for M.

In addition, try to keep a good perspective as to his age and the timeline you have for improvement. It is very likely that things will improve as M grows and matures. While he is now 4, he is ONLY 4, and between now and 7 years of age, there is a great deal of maturing that will go on with him. You will have M in your care for the next 16 years--and while in the day to day it is hard to see improvement, over time things will improve.

If you have a good "plan" for his problem behaviors, and you keep up the discipline and proactive parenting, you will provide M with the foundation he needs to grow into a holy man!

When a child's behavior is particularly difficult, the two things that most help me are:

1) Prayer
2) Proactive parenting with my husband

The second is really important. When Mr. Red and I are able to sit down in the evening, away from the heat of the moment, and talk about the problem behavior of our children, we are usually able to come up with a strategy for dealing with the difficulties. It is then a matter of following through, and re-evaluating in another nightly strategy session if things need to be tweaked or changed. Be proactive, not reactive, and it will definitely help your patience!

And finally, I think it was MaryAlice who was told by a priest that it is ok to feel that one of your children is particularly difficult and challenging (he said something like, "if you had to take one child to a desert island, it is ok to have a preference.") Don't feel guilty about these feelings! While it is important not to stereotype and label your kids, I think it is just being honest to say that we will have certain children who we "like" more than others ;-) We love them all the same, but we are only human, and we all have our preferences ;-)

June 9, 2009 at 12:06 PM  

Thank you for this!!! I think I know exactly how you must feel, 'cause I have exactly the same issue.

My little punkin is a full-throttle kind of kid -- when he's happy he's the very definition of joy. And when he's not ... Oy.

One day -- one part of the day -- at a time. Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow has enough worries of its own! (Did Jesus really think that would be exactly helpful, I wonder? Couldn't he have said, "Don't worry, God's in charge of tomorrow, and when it gets here, it'll be just great! Hang in there!") But in any case, there really is such a thing as the "self-fulfilling prophecy." If you obsess about how awful the future may be, you will subconsciously do those things that will bring exactly what you fear most.

So just keep doing what you're doing, keeping the focus entirely on what's working "right now." Pay closest attention to the happy moments, and savor them -- don't make the mistake of writing off the good moments as some kind of fluke, while the tough times are "reality." The truth is, they are both real. (And by focusing on the most peaceful and happy moments, you can increase your own perception of them as having more weight.)

And as soon as you figure out what works to make this problem disappear, by golly, POST IT!!!! I'll be waiting!! LOL

June 9, 2009 at 12:21 PM  

Hi...I appreciate you sharing your struggles. I have such a child, too, and a priest refers to her as my "spiritual benefactor". She is a gift in that she brings me to my knees and reminds me of how much I need God and the Blessed Mama (as we call her in our home) to love for me, through me, with me. She reminds me not to rely on my own strength (which is an illusion anyway), but to rely on Christ for everything. I cannot do anything without Him, not even the littlest thing. My daughter's behavior pushes me into the arms of my Father because I cannot love her on my own. She reminds me on a daily basis that I, too, am not obedient to God. She teaches me that I am in need of God's mercy daily. She helps me stand in truth before God, which also brings me in closer union with Him. So this child of yours is one of your greatest treasures! Have hope! And one of my daily prayers is to embrace the difficulties with JOY! This child of yours, of mine, are future saints! And if they can learn about God's mercy from us early on, they may just be the first saints of all of our children. I try to remember that it's all about our children learning about God's mercy, not about perfect behavior. I struggle with this myself, because of a distorted image of God. I grew up feeling I had to earn God's love. I do not want to pass along the same image to my children. Better to have bad behavior but trust in God's mercy. (rather than perfect behavior and my children reject God's mercy at the moment of their death because they feel they didn't "earn" it). And God loves me and you right now as we are, even with our falls and weakness and helplessness (probably more so, than when we feel "we" have everything under control). If things go smoothly, it's because of God's grace, not by anything I've done on my own.

Anyway, these struggles are gifts to teach me humility, and humility opens my heart to allow God to love and work through me. ALL is gift!

God bless your vocation!

Annette

June 9, 2009 at 12:40 PM  

B-Mama, readers with older children are probably smiling when they read "And I'm here to report that at age 4, it still is [hard with him]". As children get older, one realizes how young the younger children really are! I don't know if that makes any sense, but I see mothers with their first-born toddlers who are so stressed about certain issues and I realize that I was that way too, and that their children are still so young and immature (in an entirely appropriate way!). As someone said, there is a lot of maturing that happens between ages 4 and 5, 5 and 6, 6 and 7, and while it's important to be consistent and proactive in parenting (like you're already doing!), it may just be that your little guy has some emotional development to do! All I'm saying is that while 4 years seems like a really long time to be dealing with the same issues - believe me, C is 5 and it's been the same issues for his whole life as well! - he IS only 4 and someday you'll look back and realize how young that really is :)

June 9, 2009 at 1:31 PM  

Thank you for the honesty of this post. I, too have a child like this. He is utterly charming, intelligent ... and frustrating. For example, our two oldest are in school but I often think, "Homeschooling would be a lot more feasible for us if I didn't have to homeschool oldest boy." I have found that, other than prayer, my best strategy is spending time with him alone - even just a walk around the block. I see really positive results from this as I think he sometimes feels lost within the crowd. As my mom once observed, "He'll do anything for attention, even negative attention." God bless, he'll be a wonderful man.

June 9, 2009 at 2:31 PM  

Hello B-Mama...I am on my way to being a grandmother and I really do "smile" as I read what you have written. Brings back such vivid memories of sleepless nights and frustrating moments! There were also so many precious and special moments. Best book I read was "STEP Systematic Training for Effective Parenting." Best advice I ever got was from Mavis Hetherington....my child psyc professor at UVA. On the last day of class she told us that when we became parents, we should forget everything she taught us except for one thing: "THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR CHILDREN IS ENJOY THEM WHENEVER YOU CAN!"
Bless You. You are in my prayers because I know youa re doing a great job of raising these boys! Tomorrow will be a much better day! He will amaze you tomorrow is some sweet small way!

June 9, 2009 at 2:52 PM  

I have a child like this. He's my oldest. Are all children like this oldest boys? Does anyone have an oldest boy who is not like this???

June 9, 2009 at 8:34 PM  

I have an eldest son that is not like this, but a younger daughter who is and B-mama I feel your pain!

I often feel like my best, consistent efforts don't produce many results. Just remember this is our path to heaven and some kids just have more difficult tempermants. I pray my daughter uses her special gifts which can make my life so miserable for the good!

I do take solace in the fact that my mom had to deal with some difficult personalities that turned out to be great adults!

Keep praying and keep beginning again! This is the work of your sanctification (and his)!

June 9, 2009 at 9:19 PM  

One more thing....have you looked into diet? We're thinking about going off dairy and have friends who swear by the book "Is this your child?"

June 9, 2009 at 9:21 PM  

B-mama, my sympathies go out to you 100 fold. I just called my mom yesterday, one of those disillusioned phone calls, just what you say here--are you kidding, do I really have to keep banging my head against this wall, how long will it go on with him, please not until he's 5, I can't ever win, etc.

I love the term "spiritual benefactor", Annette, what a great way to view the difficult child, especially because this characterizes the child as an ONGOING source of grace, so that I'm not tempted to expect that I will finally once and for all tame him. That's what I think I need to realize, and this post helps so much... while it might change forms, the challenge will probably be there for a while, and will produce wonderful fruit in me and in the difficult child.

Elena, I couldn't agree with you more, spending time alone with my difficult child is the difference in night and day. We had three mornings a week alone together (with an easy baby in tow), while my oldest (girl) was in preschool, and I saw a complete change in him. I was shocked. Now that it's summer and we're out of that routine, all hell has broken loose again, so I'm getting some babysitting in place so we can return to our "dates"/alone time. It's such a difference that I'm willing to pay and accommodate it. Our family sinks or swims mostly according to him. There are lots of creative solutions to try (like babysitting, school for someone, bringing a grandmother or grandfather in, a particularly well-suited new activity), I think it's good to think outside our particular box and be willing to bring in some reenforcement... sometimes the rut we're in it's the biggest handicap we have.

And lastly, MaryAlice and everyone, thanks for the reminder that guilt/worry is counterproductive. We have to let go, and realize that just as we can't take credit for all our children's accomplishments, we can't be blamed for all their struggles. God asks only that we do the best we can and leave the rest in his hands.

June 9, 2009 at 9:26 PM  

Thank you, B-Mama, for your honesty! Our eldest boy is also the source of much frustration and very much affects our family dynamic and tone for me as well and I ask the same questions everyday. I know a lot of it is from his temperament (and mine). I ask myself "Why aren't all my efforts working?" But the struggle, perseverance and patience is what is sanctifying.
Thank you so much for all the comments. I appreciate the wisdom and encouragement!

June 9, 2009 at 9:35 PM  

I've just been reading the comments and realised one other thing. I've quit a lot of potentially sanctifying activities in my life but, thank God, I can't quit this oldest child and for that I am thankful.

June 10, 2009 at 7:16 AM  

What wonderful, wonderful solace you all have been to my soul. When I sat down to write yesterday, my intention was to compose a completely different post on an entirely different topic. Out this came. You could say it was the outpouring of my heart, my inner turmoil put to writing.

Your thoughts and wisdom in response have been so encouraging. Thank you! Yesterday was just a page in history, not better, not worse. Our life with this little love of ours is ongoing. Eileen described her son as "full throttle" which is EXACTLY what we have in a nutshell. The high moments are HIGH and the lows are LOW. He is such a trip, really, and you all so beautifully reminded me of how this journey is really a sanctifying one. Now, to remember that in the midst of calamity!! :)

I snuggled with him today on the couch and couldn't have been more in love with this boy of mine. He is the best and I'm with him for the long haul, no matter what the circumstance!

June 10, 2009 at 9:20 AM  

My oldest (who is now almost 14) was very high strung and I had no idea what I was doing and I remember my mother saying to me: "There is a special place in Heaven for first borns". I don't know if he's your first, B Mama, but please don't despair. The most important thing you can do for your children is to have them baptized and love them. The rest is up to God.

For me it was always tempting to believe that it was completely up to me. If I breastfed, avoided giving my children junk food, read to them every day, taught them their prayers, sent them to the right preschool, picked out their friends, turned off the tv, exposed them to classical music, got them to bed on time every night, then I could "create" the perfect child. Yes, all those things are good and worthwhile, but a perfect child will not make.

My crazy boy is now a sweet 14 year old. He's forgetful still, he has a soft spot for our dog, he loves his football and wrestling coaches, he's not a big reader, but can tell a great story and makes us laugh. He still thinks I'm the most beautiful mom in the world.
JMB

June 10, 2009 at 9:54 AM  

I know these ladies before me have such great advice and a way with words that I don't have. But, I think you're doing exactly what you should be doing. Praying when you're about to blow your top, starting each day anew with hope and encouragemnt, loving him no matter what, being consistent, being energetic, etc. I think you're doing exactly what needs to be done. It just might take longer than anticipated to see the rewards of your efforts.

I think we're probably alike, in that we were rule followers ourselves as children and our own self disappointment could keep us in line. So, I think it makes us harder on ourselves and our children. Not saying that's a good or bad thing, I guess it could be both given the circumstance...just trying to provide some perspective. That being said, I would echo some others who have suggested to keep doing what you're doing, but to try not to worry so much. Also, remember the visit from your friends recently who brought a fresh set of eyes to your family and coined M as "extreme gardening".

I'm sure this doesn't make any sense. It makes sense in my mind, but I'm just not good at putting my thoughts to words. I'm hoping that b/c you know me, you know what I mean! :) hahahaha!

One thing I'm sure how to say...
You're a GREAT mother B-mama! Without a doubt!!!!! Your boys are so blessed to have you and GG as parents. For that, I'm sure!

June 10, 2009 at 10:14 AM  

Ha, my first is a boy and he is crazy, crazy, crazy. He has autism, but it truly doesn't define him as much as the fact that he is my first boy does. My second is a girl and she is nuts, too. They are both beautiful and I figure maybe they think they can get away with it because of their looks? :) I pray daily for patience and I try to start every day confident that it will go well, but not to arrogant that it doesn't smack me down when it all inevitably falls apart. You can't pick your baby, my Mom used to tell me when my son was little, and I repeat that every day too. I know that he was made for me and I for him and I just try and remind myself of that.

Yes, it will end, it will have to, or at least it will change. I was watching the documentary "Smile, Pinki" in the night (I'm up nursing the babe) and I thought ugh, I have nothing to worry about compared to so many others in the world. I try and remind myself of that too. And sometimes, if all that doesn't work, I sit on the kitchen floor and cry! :)

June 10, 2009 at 10:28 AM  

One thing I have been doing lately, which has been helping me, is to try to channel my frustration into a prayer for his vocation/spouse. I think all the time that this one child is going to need some terrific other people to support him in his life, and so I hope that whoever is parenting them right now has good formation and support themselves. This also came from the priest who said the desert island thing.

I know that my husband is an oldest boy and he has had his complicated moments, and he is also an incredible adult, but I don't think I am flattering myself to say that his parents must have been totally relieved to see him fall in love with a good person and be loved in return. I am thankful for the way that my parents loved me so that I could recognize him. God planned us for one another and shoved us together at just the right time in our lives, through the prayers of our parents and grandparents.

June 10, 2009 at 11:50 AM  

B-Mama...I also wanted to add that in moments of extreme frustration, I ask our sweet baby Kolbe to pray for his mama. We are so blessed to have a saint and intercessor in our family, as are you. Not only are his prayers so sweet, but thinking of him reminds me to treasure this big boy that God has put in my care.

Baby Jude, pray for us!

June 10, 2009 at 2:53 PM  

Oh TM, you are so right! Pray for us, sweet Jude!!

June 10, 2009 at 9:29 PM  

Two things:
1) One of the graces of motherhood is that we *are* stretched and we're given the opportunity to grow in ways we wouldn't have otherwise. I thought I was a pretty patient person (until I had kids). I thought I was resourceful (until I had kids). I thought I knew what it was to pray (until I had kids). My ideas on those things are different now!

I think it's really important to remember that childrearing isn't just about me molding my child's heart, but about my heart being molded through the challenges with which my children present me.

2) Transforming the Difficult Child by Howard Glasser is very, very helpful. You don't have to buy into all of it, but the basic premise is simple: we spend too much 'in the moment' time correcting and giving attention to the negative, and too little time rewarding the positive. This is SO true with difficult children! I have the 'workbook' version of this book, and while it has limitations, it is worth its weight in gold.

June 10, 2009 at 9:47 PM  

Another great parenting resource is Dr. Ray's books/DVD's. He is a Catholic father of 10 and psychologist. www.drray.com

I feel like am getting a parenting pep talk when I listen to his DVD's...and afterwards feel more hopeful for the next day.

God bless!

June 10, 2009 at 10:53 PM  

B-Mama! I loved this post -- thank you so much for writing it. I know Tanner is only approaching 2, but I often feel the same things you wrote about. My mom actually called me out the other day on making Tanner sound like such a bad kid while I paint Landon as an angel. I felt so guilty, but know she was only speaking truth. I was actually thinking just the other day that Tanner is either SO happy or SO mad/sad/angry about everything ... sounding similar to your M. I know they were meant for you, but I felt very encouraged after reading all of these beautiful comments. Please know that you are a fantastic mama and if you provide half the encouragement/inspiration to your children that you do for all of us other moms, you are definitely doing something right!

Hang in there! Treat yourself to some Starbucks ... that always seems to make things at least a little better. :)

HUGS!

June 11, 2009 at 4:10 PM  

You are such a great mom B and I have absolutely no doubt that your boys will grow up to be fantastic guys. It isn't easy...I can relate...those 3/4 year olds like to test the waters! But always soak up the absolute joy in the many sweet and good times. And in the not so good times consistency and love and prayer and you won't go wrong! Hugs!!!

June 11, 2009 at 10:50 PM  

All that has been said here is good, but I would add a few more thoughts to ponder.

When my older kids were the little ones (I have six, aged 2.5 to 14 yrs) someone told me that it's not our child's weaknesses that will irritate us, it's their strengths that are overdone. Our job as parents is to help our children get their strengths under control so that they are in charge instead of whatever tendency it is that seems to rule them at this moment.

Also, although people talk of the "terrible twos" these developmental issues actually seem to worsen on those even years all along. What seems to happen is that they have a year of new growth, then a year of getting used to it and testing it out. It's the testing year that can make us crazy!

I would also especially agree with what some posts have said in other ways, "Relax." Pick your battles and don't let your own self-image get caught up in your child's behavior. He is a unique person and much of what he is is simply what God put into him. I've always said I'd feel like the worst parent in the world if I'd only had two kids. My first two seemed very intense and were screamers. I couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong when I was doing all I knew. Then came #3--so laid back he was 23 months before he got around to walking!! (He had low-muscle tone issues.) I finally realized that kids are just born this way, don't sweat it.

And, lastly, my own mother wore out Dobson's The Strong-Willed Child trying to raise me. A lot of people would never believe I was such a difficult child. There were a lot of issues in my growing up as well, but I do have a daughter very much like me and I'm understanding what my mother went through more and more! BTW, Dr. Ray says that he doesn't have any strong-willed children among his ten. Well, at least none of them are as strong-willed as their mother!! Guess that's where my overdone strength as a child has become my useful tool as a adult!

God's blessings to you as you continue to love and parent this little boy of such extremes!

June 14, 2009 at 11:18 PM  

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