Monday, March 7, 2011

Weekly Column: Golden Opportunities

It can be hard to admit that our children aren’t perfect.  After all, we fall in love with them instantly at birth, are enamored of their tiny smiles and milestones during infancy, and humored by their antics in early toddlerhood.  They don’t make mistakes so much as learn by trial and error; life is all about learning and growing. 
But the first time we see our darling angels striking out in anger over a favorite toy’s loss, or hear them yell in defiance against our helpful guidance, the perfection seems to be over.  The realization that our kids are just like other kids – willful, bossy, defiant, clever, exhausting – comes like the dawn of a stormy day: messy and threatening.  It would be more comfortable to brush those instances of undesired behavior under the rug than to face them head-on, right?
Only until that behavior gets settled into your routine, at which point you’ll be wishing you’d addressed it in the first place.
I’ve come up against these moments with more frequency than I’d like to confess, but here are some of my worst cover-ups:
In the name of not waking the baby, I let the toddler get away with all manner of rule-breaking so as to avoid a LOUD meltdown. 
In the name of laziness, I let my almost three-year-old speak rudely to me without consequences.
In the name of avoidance, I let my five-year-old leave her room in a disastrous state while she goes out to play, leaving me to clean it up rather than force her into a prolonged clean-up battle. 
I’ll go to terrible lengths in order to keep the peace when it would ultimately garner more peace if I’d fix the problem at the outset. 
The biggest factor in me digging myself out of this rut is, first, to recognize my mistakes.  This is real life, and pleading ignorance will only hurt our happiness later.  But more vital than mere recognition of my avoidance are the actions I must take from here on out.  And to do that, I’ve needed a big attitude change of my own.  It’s simple, really, and only takes a bit of practice, but here’s what I know now:
Each time I’m presented with misbehavior, it’s an opportunity waiting to be addressed.
Instead of dreading the melt-down when I enforce a rule, I might anticipate it and even look forward to it.  I can be pleased with a tantrum because it is affording me the chance to address a problem and fix it.  Instead of backing away from my child’s occasional rudeness, I remain calm and, somehow, manage to appreciate that this rude remark is paving the way for a lesson-learned.  Instead of wallowing in the guilt of knowing that I’ve let an unhealthy behavior continue too long, I can be excited that the next time it occurs, I’ll step in and handle it differently. 
It makes for easier days and nights, knowing that misbehaving children – however capable of sweetness and lovability – WILL be in my future, and that their actions provide us with golden chances.  Teachable moments abound; instead of fearing them, I embrace them, because consequences dodged are opportunities lost. 
This doesn’t mean I’ve turned into a punishment-happy drill sergeant, though.  I still use gentle, careful methods of teaching lessons, utilizing natural consequences and explaining reasons throughout.  I still maintain that calm respect will get us further than fearful punishment. 
But just as gentleness doesn’t equal permissiveness, imperfection doesn’t equal failure, neither in imperfect parents, nor in imperfect children.  We all have room to grow. 
We just have to embrace the opportunities.


  1. This is the stuff that makes my heart go boom...professionally and personally. I just finished teaching a parenting class not long ago. On the first night of class I promised them that they would view misbehavior as an oppurtunity they woudl be excited about. They thought I was crazy. (In the end, they told me they got it!) Having only one tot, I have the exact opposite problem. I am workingon not pickng EVERY opportunity and just letting some things go. I go a little overboard sometimes.
    also? the car! For pete's sake! Driving in the car is my parenting nightmare. I can't drive and help him handle the things that lead to meltdowns. No matter what I do: books, music, toys, all goes out the window if he loses it.
    Great post Sarah! Love it.

  2. Oh, it's so easy to let things slide. Until you are furious and your reaction is too big. And by you, I mean I. Yup been there.

    What amazes me is that the teachable moments are there in the ugliness, but also the beauty. When I started to praise my (nearly) 6 year olds helpfulness, she got twice as helpful. And her baby sister did too - she set the table tonight without bring asked. Wow.

    And then they spent the evening pushing each other. Sigh.

  3. Very well put! I've noticed if I address any issues before 10 am, the rest of our day goes splendidly!
    I did crack up this morning while at a friend's house and her daughters started fighting up yelled out, "So help me!" Made me feel so oddly cheerful that I'm really not in this mothering gig alone!

  4. you said it so well. I think we have all been there. I am going to love my children no matter what choices they make in their lives, but my job as a parent is to make sure that others can love them too. Good for you!!


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?