Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Always and Never

Is there anything worse than hearing, "You ALWAYS do this!" during an argument?  It brings up all the defensiveness I have and I quickly plan my rebuttal.  When we discussed fair fighting at the marriage conference we attended in June, that was a recurring theme.  When you fight, stick with the issue at hand.  Don't have a "kitchen sink" argument by including every grievance you have that falls in that particular category.  When you say "Always" or "Never," you truly aren't being fair to your partner.  It will only give them an opening to tell you all the times they haven't done that particular thing and then you are stuck in a circular discussion.  I'm happy to say my husband and I NEVER do this anymore.  Well, almost never.  Anyway...Our four year old hasn't quite gotten the memo.

"Mommy!  You always make me go to bed when I don't want to!" he will say.  "Mommy!  You never play with me!"  and, my favorite, "Mommy!  Why are you always so mean?!"  I have tried desperately to come up with a way to a.) stay calm in the midst of these accusations and b.) stop this madness before he's dating or married.  But I reached my breaking point this week.

"Mommy," he said with pure exasperation in his voice, "Why do you ALWAYS forget to give me a straw?!"  I took in a sharp breath and prepared to say, "You ungrateful little..." and then I stopped.  "If you would like a straw, you are welcome to get it yourself," I said trying to be kind through gritted teeth.  "Yeah but YOU should remember every single time.  You never remember and I always have to get it myself!" he said as he huffed over to the pantry to get his straw.  My mind started spinning.  Why do you need a stupid straw in the first place?  What about the fact that I got you lunch, a drink AND I'm going to do the dishes all while you do anything you want to do?  I haven't heard a thank you for all of that!  Then my martyrdom began to run out of steam.  I flashed to something I learned at a parenting group when he was a toddler.  

"Are you trying to say, 'May I have a straw please?'" I asked trying to gently tell him how he should be asking.  "Yeah," he said.  "And that you should always remember to give me a straw."  Oh how this child loves to have the last word.  I decided it was time for a sit down.  "If I said to you, you never listen to me when I ask you to do things, would that be true?" I asked hoping for some flicker of a connection.  "No - I listen most of the time.  I'm a great listener," he said.  "True.  So would it hurt your feelings if Mommy told you you never listen?"  I asked.  "Yeah because you would be lying and God doesn't like liars," he said.  "You're right, he doesn't.  When you use the words 'always' or 'never' it makes me feel bad and it's also untrue.  I do remember to give you a straw most of the time, right?"  Understanding now that he was boxed in, he started tugging at a string at the bottom of his shirt and balancing on one leg.  I knew I was losing him.  "How about this...If I hear you say 'always' or 'never' in a mean way, I will say, 'Are you trying to say...' so that I can understand what you really meant.  It can also be a reminder or a better way to say it next time.  Sound good?"  I asked.  He saw his out and quickly wrapped his arms around my neck.  "Sounds good!  Bye!" and he raced away.

Only time will tell if he heard me.  It will take consistency on my part and patience that many days I don't know that I have.  But isn't that exactly what it means to be a parent?  It's not all soft warm sleeping babies.  It's dealing with strong personalities that fight hard to do the wrong thing.  It's seeing human beings in their rawest form and trying to find some method to channel or filter their words and actions.  It's being given a challenge that sometimes we would rather not have to fight.  But if we do it with the purpose of raising Godly men and women, we will always have a path to follow.  We aren't doing this alone.  None of us are.  So that's my next move.  I'm going to say a prayer for all of you that are dealing with a challenging child today.  I will pray that you have a respite.  I will pray that you will gain clarity and can trust that God will guide your path as you get through this particularly difficult period of behavior.  God will show you the way.  

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