This is how my children were unreasonable today:
They got angry and frustrated at me for cleaning cat vomit off the floor. They didn't want me to get out the cleaning kit; they wanted food and they wanted it right then. My selfish insistence on getting the puke cleaned up rather than putting their highchairs in the middle of the goopy brown puddle was impinging on their Cheerio time and they did not like it, no they did not like it one bit. I cannot say just how crazy this drives me. If they were getting antsy because I was reading a book, or learning to make cake pops, or doing one of the twelve hundred other things I want to be doing and don't have time for then okay, fair enough. Yell your little hearts out, kiddos. Mummy is being selfish; shout until she remembers her responsibilities. But seriously, children. Cat vomit? I can't find any way to make them understand that I do not want to be cleaning up vomit. Do they really think I am choosing to do this because I don't love them? Do they really think I would be on my hands and knees getting a face full of this particular substance if it wasn't absolutely necessary? Apparently so. They howled and howled and I got madder and madder as I scrubbed it up and wondered how did this happen, that I even get an earful of mother-guilt when I'm doing stuff that I don't want to do?
This happens all the time. Later they were at it again. Blue had filled his nappy in impressive style and based on the smell, it needed changing pronto if we didn't want to throw out all of our soft furnishings. This led to a four-legged, four-handed cyclone because Blue didn't want to have his nappy changed and Pink didn't want me to put her down so I could do it. Blue writhed on the changing mat, kicking and screaming, angry and frustrated because he wanted to be running-running-running, not staying still and attending to personal hygiene. Pink wailed down below, clutching my knee and throwing her little body to the ground, angry and frustrated because I wasn't quick enough to get Blue off the mat, pick her up again and cuggen, mama, cuggen. None of my entreaties to look at Mummy's face look at mummy's face LOOKATMUMMY'SFAAAAAACE had any effect on either of them. Again, I was facing serious toddler-wrath even though I didn't even want to be doing the thing that was making them mad. And that made me really mad.
So I guess this is how I was unreasonable today: I got angry and frustrated at my children because they were acting like (almost) two-year-olds.
I try to remind myself that actually, it's reasonable that they don't have any concept of time. It's reasonable that they can't see even thirty seconds into the future and understand that what is happening RIGHT NOW will not always be happening. It's reasonable for them not to realise that the cat-vomit-cleaning, the nappy change will end and the cheerios or cuddles will start again. It's reasonable that they don't understand any of this.
But I guess it's also reasonable that I don't like being kicked in the windpipe by a raging child. It's reasonable that I don't like being bitten so hard that it draws blood. And you know what? I really don't like it. And so their reasonable plus my reasonable equals one great big fat maelstrom of unreasonable. This is where I get angry at them for being angry. I yell at them for yelling. Sometimes, as the words stop shouting! come roaring out of my mouth I hear myself and think Okay, which one of us in this room is acting most like a toddler right now? Oh right, it's me.
When I think about how frustrated and angry I get with them, I swing wildly between self-loathing and self-justification. On one side, I say to myself 'You've had a long day, they're being utterly unreasonable, it's no surprise that you snapped'. The other side says 'How could you have yelled so angrily at your precious baaaaaybeeeees! You are not worthy of them! They deserve better than you!'
I suppose both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. When they are being little horrors, losing my temper with them is understandable, but it's not okay. Just like their kicking and biting is understandable, but ultimately not okay. We are the same as each other, them and me. The problem isn't really the frustration, it's what we do with the frustration. I need to train them to learn self-control in difficult situations, but sometimes I feel like such a hypocrite.
I never thought I had difficulties with my temper until I had toddlers, but r
ight now I struggle more than I could ever have imagined.
Christians often say that having children opens surprising new windows into what the Father-love of God is like. I was sceptical about this while we waited for ours. I knew I would love my children a lot, I knew God loved me a lot. No surprises lurking there, surely? In a way, I was right. The love I feel for them is deep and true and wonderful, but it hasn't been a surprise. I longed for that sort of love and now it's here, hooray. No, what has surprised me is that sometimes my utterly beloved children are so awful I don't even want to be in the same room as them. And yet I still love them.
At the moment, as I see my toddlers spin around, confused an unaware and totally unable to control their impulses I keep being hit by the fact that God must see me in just the same way. They want everything right now. They have no patience. They have no self control. They destroy things. They are always complaining. And every time I put this into words - to complain about them- I am forced to admit that the person I am really describing is me.
Yet God as my Father continues to love me like his own precious toddler. For me, this has been my new window. Not the depth of God's love, but it's strength - that it must be strong enough to keep going even when I'm really, really annoying.
So that's a reason to be thankful, and I am. But what am I going to do about the fact that my own behaviour is toddlerrific? After one of my children has a tantrum, the way our house works is that they need to look at my face and say sorry. Then I tell them I forgive them, give them a cuddle and it's over, forever, forgotten (if it was an infraction against the other twin they have to apologise to them, too). I don't want them pretending that they didn't do anything wrong, but I don't want them to keep thinking about it, either. I don't want them to sit there feeling guilty for what's already happened, I want them to leave that behind and do better next time.
I think this is what I should be applying to myself as well. When I lose control and get angry with my children, I need to stop making excuses about why I couldn't help it and man up and admit I was wrong - to God, to myself, to the children. Whatever the provocation, I should not have done it. I need to ask for their forgiveness, and then I need to get over it and do better when the next pressure point comes. Which will probably be in about ten minutes' time. Sometimes I wallow around feeling guilty about my parenting because it's easier than actually making changes. Guilt sort of feels good because it makes me feel like whoever did that yelling and screaming wasn't the real me. Guilt is cheap. And ultimately, it's a bit of a cop-out. Believe me, I speak from experience.
So what can I say? It's easy for me to make grand resolutions right now; my children are napping. I was a great mother before I met them, and I suspect I'll be really great again once they've left home. But in the days and weeks and months (and aeroplane flights) ahead, I need to practice modelling the kind of self-control that I would like them to be learning. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Failing and falling and trying again. And again. And again.
Hmmmmm. Nothing about this mothering thing is easy, is it?