I had one of THOSE parenting days recently. You know what I’m talking about. A parenting day that you’re not proud of. A day when you’re convinced that one (or more) of your kids is actually wiser than you are. It truly wasn’t a terrible day, per se. There were no crises; there were no massive injuries. But I was irritable and short-tempered. I was tired of my (woefully inadequate) attempts at housekeeping being immediately destroyed. I was OVER IT.
Walking into my toddler’s room, I found a floor that had been creatively decorated in diapers, freshly delivered from Amazon Prime. The entire box. A two-month supply. As I cursed myself for even opening the box, and then abandoning it, I tripped over my oldest child’s shoes for what felt like the seventeenth time that week. She has a habit of leaving them in a trail, in the middle of hallways, seemingly removing them mid-step. I cannot for the life of me understand it. Shortly thereafter, my middle somehow dumped an entire bowl of cereal and milk on the floor. Twice.
I may have lost my temper. I raised my voice and said something to the effect of “Why are you all so set on messing everything up??” My oldest looked at me with her doe eyes and innocently asked if I was lumping all three kids together. I blurted out, “Yes I’m lumping you together! You leave your shoes all over the place, you can’t keep your cereal in your bowl, and you throw diapers everywhere!” while looking at and scolding each individual child.
My oldest replied, “I really don’t like being lumped together.” FULL STOP.
This was immediately followed by an internal dialogue of, omigosh, what did I just do?!? What is wrong with me?!? How often do I do that?? How often do I see my children as “my children” rather than seeing them as the individual, developing human beings that they are? I remember the words “Thank you, Captain Obvious” running through my head, but they weren’t directed at my daughter. They were directed at myself.
The clarity of her words was jarring. How did I miss that? Don’t we ALL hate being lumped together? We are so often labeled according to our religious affiliation, our political affiliation, or our real or perceived social class. We might be called a “crunchy” mama or a “helicopter” mama. Or perhaps we are classified by our parenting decisions…homeschooling or public or private schooling…formula feeding or breastfeeding…the list goes on. I silently loathe the ease with which humans (myself included) assign others into categories. I get it; really I do. It makes for easy psychological organization. And differences are easier to identify than similarities, particularly in an increasingly polarized society. But I have to believe we are missing an incredible amount of human connection when we classify others by one or two aspects of who they are.
I refuse to miss out on those connections with my children. There can be no us vs. them (or parents vs. kids) in our home. I refuse to classify them based on their mistakes on one (or several) days. It is unacceptable to me. My children are not just my children, and they are not just house-destroyers (though it may feel like that sometimes). They are future professionals, spouses, and parents. Each of my children has his or her own unique strengths and personalities, and I believe that each will leave their own imprint on the world. I just have to remind myself sometimes that they are not conspiring against me. At least I don’t think so.
If I strive to connect with other adults, and find shared commonality rather than disagreements, how much more must I strive to do that in my own home? How much more important is it to see my children as individuals and teach them to do the same for others? Connection starts at home. Don’t hesitate to learn from your kids. Sometimes they’re telling you exactly what they need.