My babies have reached some interesting behaviors this year. Hitting. Contradicting. Long-distance taking-of-things (another instance of logic not applying to toddlers). Antagonizing. And yes, I taught them what that word means–Audrey once even said plaintively to her sister: “Theresa, you’re agonizing me.”
One of my kiddos recently had some consecutive meltdowns, and another three-year-old whom we had been playing with came to me to say, “[Child X] is not nice because [Child X] yells.”
I fought my Mama Bear instinct and used the phrase that our wonderful music teacher, Mary Anne, taught me about a challenging kid in our class: “[Child X] is a nice kid who is learning not to yell.”
Which came in handy last week when a two-year-old at the Aquarium bopped Theresa on the head. Not hard. Not enough to hurt or elicit tears. Enough to make the dad fall over himself with apologies and embarrassment.
Audrey: Why did that kid hit Theresa?
Me: He’s a good boy who’s learning not to hit.
This is the reaction I wish other people will have for my children when they mess up. Because they will. We all do. I am constantly asking for forgiveness for yelling, for hurting feelings, for blaming. I am a good person who is learning to respond instead of react, learning to breathe before the cuss words come in front of my kids, learning to cultivate stillness in the chaos.
All three of them have had instances where they have said, “I’m not a good person because I [hit, bite, push, take people’s things, etc.].” One even said, “I don’t love myself.”
The first of these moments happened a little while ago on Day 3 of Solo Parenting. There had been many reprimands for this kid. Many explanations of why it’s not okay to do [x]. One of those days where I felt like all my interactions with my kids were “Don’t” and “No” and Removal from Situation to Have Quiet Time.
By 9 pm, I was tucking this kid in for the
fourth final time, and I said: “You are a really good kid. You are kind and thoughtful, and you are gentle with animals, and are really caring to others, and you make people laugh, and you are strong and brave at trying new things.”
Kid: I make people laugh. [giggles]
Me: Yep, you like singing silly songs and telling funny stories. And you’re a really good person.
Kid: But sometimes I am not a good person. Sometimes I take people’s animals and hit and push or…take their stuff…or bite.
Me: Can I tell you two things? One, sometimes we all make not-good choices. But you are ALWAYS, ALWAYS a good person. Sometimes I make not-good choices. Sometimes I yell. But I’m still a good person. And you are a good person who sometimes makes not-good choices. Two, you always get a second chance. Tomorrow you get another chance to make a good choice when you’re feeling sad or mad. What other things can you do if you’re feeling sad or mad?
Kid: I can shake the calming jar.
Me: Right! Good idea! Or you can ask a grown-up for help, or you can go to your zebra and have some quiet time.
Kid: Sometimes I make not-good choices.
Me: But you are ALWAYS, ALWAYS a good person. And I ALWAYS, ALWAYS love you.
These are the words I have latched on to, have repeated to the two other kids whenever they have had similar experiences of feeling like “not a good person.”
I cherish these moments, holding my baby and telling him or her what he or she must understand. This is what my mom told us over and over, so much that I still hear her voice when I think the words: I may not always love what you do, but I always love you.
My kids will have experiences in their lives that will cause them to question, at their core, if they are worthy, or enough, or a good person. I am so grateful for the gift of being the first and most constant conveyer of that message: not only always, but always always.
You are always, always a good person.
And I always, always love you.