When our first child was born – a girl – I was in awe. She was the most perfect, beautiful thing I had ever seen. She was also delightful in temperament, perennially cheerful and good-natured. My husband and I patted ourselves on the back and labeled ourselves good parents.
When her sister was born two years later, like most parents of multiples, we quickly saw that our second child was not a repeat of the first. She was quirky and temperamental, and I soon realized our second daughter was very different from me, too. My bag of tricks to calm her and draw out smiles didn’t work as well as it did on our first. And the differences have become clearer and more pronounced over the years. Her interests, and ways are different from mine. I love to read; she’s quickly bored with books. I like ball sports; she likes dance. I want to watch Anne of Green Gables with her; she wants to watch Minions. I enjoy order; her room looks like….well you can imagine. She loves animal prints.
We butt heads at times. We often don’t understand each other. We sometimes find each other exasperating – and confusing.
And yet I know this child is just as unique, special, loveable and beautiful as each of her siblings. But sometimes my love for her doesn’t show through as clearly as it should. Because I’m irritated with her. Or she’s irritated with me.
At times of frustration, there are a couple of simple tools that have been, and continue to be so helpful for me. Nothing wild or magical, but nonetheless…..
- Pray for help to really love the child. Not too long ago I would have thought it strange that a mother could actually need help to love her own child. Isn’t a mother’s love supposed to naturally pour out in rosy overabundance for her offspring? Well, yes – usually. But not always. Anyone who’s been a parent for very long knows that parenting involves times of, shall we call them – extreme frustration. The ‘I’ve told you a hundred times…listen!!’ sort of times. I’ve found that praying specifically for help to love our kids really does help, and the onus is on the parent first – not the child – to demonstrate love and maturity. Prayer softens the agitated heart. If we can pray to grow in compassion and love for our enemies, we can certainly pray for greater love (and patience) towards our children, right? Praying for help to love my daughter (or any of our kids) usually also has the unexpected result of helping me see more clearly all the good in that child instead of focusing on the current irritation. And there is a lot of good that gets muffled by that one annoying thing.
- Spend fun quality time together. Our kids love dates – one-on-one fun time – with mom or dad. Recently my husband took our other kids out and I had a free afternoon to spend with our second daughter – (with whom I had previously been arguing about the state of her bedroom and homework). We spent the afternoon together making a mess in the kitchen baking gingerbread men and listening to music, and had a ball. She told me she had “the greatest time ever with mom.” We reconnected and I gained a renewed appreciation for how hilarious and how much fun this girl is. Fun times together can smooth over the rough edges of conflict, and just like in marriage, sometimes loving relationships with our kids could use a refresh. Victor Borge thought that “laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” and I agree – even when those two people are parent and child.