Well, bedtime has floated to 8 o'clock or later over the summer, and I find that I am at my worst just when, in some ways, my kids need me most. Today was a particularly rough day for me, short on sleep and long on sugar, an entire plate of food and glass of milk were dropped on the floor during dinner, but still I managed, by grace and effort, to keep my cool until bathtime.
Then came the big test:
My oldest walked into the room where I had three little boys in the bath. "Mom, the light bulb in my bathroom broke."
Me, testy: "What do you mean, it broke?"
"Uh...I was spraying it with my water bottle and it exploded."
Deep breath, quick call to the Holy Spirit.
"That was a poor choice, buddy, please go clear up the dinner table while I get these guys into bed, and then I will come in and talk to you."
This was amazing -- I bought myself time to regain some composure. He went off to do something that would help me, but also time to think about what Mom might say or do and how he felt about it.
When I came out, the first thing he said was "is there anything else I can do to help?" I asked him to sit down in Dad's big chair. He looked terrified.
In a totally calm voice, sitting right at his eye level, I said "I think you know that it is really dangerous to play with water and electricity, or to touch light bulbs at all. I don't know if the fixture is going to be damaged as well. I suspect you knew that this was a bad idea when you were doing it, and now you see that there are consequences to your actions. You made a good choice, though, to come and tell me right away, and to tell the truth about how it happened. I am going to clean up the glass now, and then you can take your shower. I don't feel safe replacing the light bulb in a wet fixture. Dad will take a look at it over the weekend. Until then, your bathroom will be a bit dark."
After I had cleaned up the glass I sat with him while he, with my prompting, cleaned up his entire dressing area and bathroom, which had gotten a bit out of control over the last few days.
Once he was all cozy in his pajamas, he came to me and quietly said "Mom, thanks for helping me sort out my stuff, and for not being mad about the light bulb."
I gave him a big hug and I said "P, you are going to make some mistakes in your life, but I want you to know that you can always tell me the truth. I will try hard to control my temper and to help you sort things out."
This was a significant victory for both of us.
P is about to be 8, and I see that we are coming in to a different phase of our parenting. Slowly, he will have more freedom in order to learn self control. He will be tempted. I remember in those pre-teen years how tempting it was to "experiment" by melting crayons on the radiator, falling out of my bunk bed, all kinds of stupid stuff. The truth is, they are testing themselves, they are testing boundaries, and they are testing us. If I come to Mom with a problem, will she explode? I want to be strict with my kids, and there will be consequences for not doing your work or chores, for lying, for sneaking around, but I want them to know that I am here with love if they want to talk something out, or if they arrive at a place where a really bad choice has been made and they need help getting out of danger. I want them to learn these lessons before the teen years, when the natural consequences get too big, too fast.
This is a balancing act, and temperament comes into play as well, I am quick to anger, and this particular child takes things really hard, so I have to be very careful with him. In the next few years, I think we'll both have a lot to learn.