the one about my love dare

Before I start, let me make one thing very clear-- I absolutely, 110%, love my children all of the time. It is there, the love in my heart, at all hours, of every day, of every year I have known them. I loved my children before they were even physically real to me. I dreamt of their faces and loved them before they had names and voices and the best hair you ever did see. 

I love being their mama. I love being home with them. 

I luh all uh dat. 

However, however, it is not always easy to put my love into action. What do I mean by this? I mean, when my daughter is screaming that I am the meanest mommy in the world and swinging her tiny fists at me, it is not always easy to show my love for her in that moment.

In fact, I have failed at that very thing over and over and over again. When she screams and yells and throws fits, I tend to take it personally. I engage in an argument with her. Sometimes, I blow up. I yell. I get angry. I feel like running away. Or drinking. Or running away and drinking. 

My desire for the perfect family with perfectly behaved children in the most perfectly maintained home gets to the best of me in those times. When she's pushing my buttons or yelling "no" to my every request or blatantly ignoring my attempts at disciplining her, I see all of that perfection going up in flames, and the loss of control breaks me. 

I don't think I can get more honest than this. 

Her outbursts are typically short-lived, and my outbursts are easily tempered, but I know that there has to be a better way. 

So, this week, I dared myself to love her. Like, really love her. To not only love her in my heart like I always have and always will, but to love her with my actions when she is doing her best to put me in the psych ward. 

Starting Monday, when she screamed at me, I walked away. Yes, I did. I calmly said, "That is not a nice way to speak to me," and I moved to another room. I didn't engage with her. I didn't even put her in timeout (don't tell Super Nanny). I just walked away. 

This. Helped. Me.

She calmed down. She didn't have an audience to scream at. The first day, she just resumed her normal activities. By the third day, she apologized. Without being forced to. She just did it.

I was a mom she felt like apologizing to. 

Since my frustration seemed to rest on the amount of control I was losing in these temper tantrums, simply walking away and taking a breather helped me to regain that control I had lost. All of the things I had tried before-- timeouts, power struggles, lectures, loss of privileges, etc upon etc, had failed. This worked. This helped.

When she decided to push the envelope by challenging me in public (screaming at the top of her lungs at Target), I felt tempted to either bribe her or spank her. However, I simply stated to her, "I don't know why you are yelling. Please stop yelling," and proceeded to the checkout as fast as possible. People stared at me. A lady switched out of our checkout line in favor of a quieter one, but I didn't care. 

When I got in the car, I called my sister in law. Calling her helped me to ignore the screaming banshee in the backseat, and it allowed me to vent my frustrations without emotionally damaging my child. By the time our conversation was over, my daughter was calmed down, my blood pressure was back to normal, and I was able to speak calmly with her about why her actions were inappropriate. 

You're probably thinking, "Well, if your child is still screaming and disobeying you, clearly this strategy isn't working either." It might seem like that to you, but I can honestly say that the number of daily outbursts has been significantly reduced. Noticeably reduced. My husband has picked up on, too. 

My calm demeanor in the midst of her tantrums reassures her that I love her no matter what. When she feels loved, she doesn't act up (as much). When she feels safe, she doesn't need to test her boundaries. 

Now, if you're thinking that what I have been doing is easy, please think again. Staying calm, walking away, choosing not to engage with her in the midst of a meltdown and deliberately loving her when it is hard is one of the most challenging things I have done as a mother.

Am I letting her get away with bad behavior? No, I don't think so. Every child is different, and sometimes timeouts don't work. My prayer is that the more I love her, deliberately love her, the less she will disrespect me as her mother, and the tantrums and outbursts will become fewer and farther between. 

One week in, and they already have.

Not only have her meltdowns tapered, but the amount of love she is showing to others is what really has me staggering. She has spoken to strangers instead of coldly staring. She has played with her sister, offered us pieces of her meals, and today she sincerely hugged a classmate goodbye.

All things that had been rare findings before I dared to love her.

As she gets older, I'm sure we will adapt and change our approach to discipline, just as we have already in her short three years on Earth, but for now, love is working. 

Love is enough.

Love works. It is life’s most powerful motivator and has far greater depth and meaning than most people realize. It always does what is best for others and can empower us to face the greatest of problems. We are born with a lifelong thirst for love. Our hearts desperately need it like our lungs need oxygen. Love changes our motivation for living. -- excerpt from The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick

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