the one about the marathon


There are times when I really feel like I'm winning at it.

The hugs. The kisses. The holding hands. The cuddles. The arms around my neck with a whole-hearted "I love you, Mama!"

"Thank you."

"I'm sorry."

All of that is winning.

And then there are times when my 4 year old puts on her winter coat, and, just prior to opening the door to the back deck and stomping away into the wilderness, announces to me that she is going to find a new mom because I'm the worst one ever.

Not my definition of winning.

This has been one daunting week.

Not only has she started to back-talk me like it is her j-o-b, but she has shown me now more than ever that she has too many toys and too much shtuff in general because she fails to clean anything up or take care of her belongings.

When I dare to ask her to pick something up that she has exploded all over the living room, she collapses to the floor in a pile of curls and twirly skirts and cries.

It's a good thing Christmas is 6 days away so she can get EVEN MORE THINGS!

And I'm going to be quite honest with you. In those moments, I lose my shit.

I don't walk away easily. My blood boils, my blood pressure rises, and I want to (and sometimes do) explode.

I engage with an irrational 4 year old. I begin entertaining negotiations, using vocabulary that is way over her head, and I deliver lectures that go in one ear and out the other.

Against my better judgment.

Against what I know is best.

Against what I have read in books and in blogs.

As you might imagine, that method isn't working well for me.

Case in point. Yesterday, I gave an Oscar-worthy speech on the importance of taking care of her markers so they wouldn't dry up. That then parlayed itself into a lesson on how markers cost money, and we don't have endless funds to replace markers. I topped it off with the old standby of "there are children in the world who don't have markers, so you should be thankful and take care of them."

After all of that, the markers were still left uncapped. Words were exchanged. Resistance. Tears. The whole thing. They were taken away and she was sent to her room to think about what it means to be ungrateful.

That escalated quickly.

After a good bit of time passed, I went in to speak with her about what had happened and if she knew why I was upset.

"My behavior?"

"I yelled?"

Notice the question marks? She was making guesses. She didn't know why I was upset. And she didn't know what it meant to be ungrateful.

Probably because I didn't give her a dictionary and probably because she is 4 years old.

For as verbal and smart as she is, at the end of the day, she is 4 years old. Her mind can only process so much. Her brain is only so developed in those social and emotional and logical ways.

It hit me that I may be expecting her to think like an adult…when in fact she is still a child.

When you have a child who articulates like an adult, who converses with adults, and basically thinks she is an adult…it is so difficult to remember that she was still in diapers like a year ago.

Pacifiers a year before that.

She's still a child. A day older than a toddler it feels. She's still learning. And she's learning from me.

Each time I fly off the handle, she's watching.

Each time I run off at the mouth, she's listening.


She sees…she hears…she remembers…everything.

In the dark moments, I blame myself. How did I mess up so badly? What have I done wrong? Is it too late to turn this around? Will our relationship forever be strained?

But in the light, I know the truth. I know that she is testing me. Pushing me. Challenging me to rise to the occasion. She wants to see how far she can go before I just throw my hands up and say "Forget it. I'm done. I quit."

And she wants to know that the answer to "how far she can go before I quit" is forever. No matter how hard it gets, I won't quit. I will always be her Mama. I will always love her. She wants to know this.

My frustration and exasperation with my daughter does not mean I do not love her. I love her so immensely that it kills me to struggle with her so much. If I didn't love her, it wouldn't hurt, and I wouldn't care. I wouldn't want to change anything. If I didn't love her, I wouldn't care about what kind of child she was or what kind of woman she would grow up to be.

I love her from the tips of my toes to the top of my (rapidly graying) head.

But I'm a real Mama. I am a real human. I am not perfect.

So, after some reflection…some coffee…and lots and lots of chocolate…I am rethinking my plan.

First, I had to think about why her behavior made me so angry. There are plenty of parents who seem to shrug these outbursts and fits off so easily. Laugh them off, even. Meanwhile, I think about and obsess over them for weeks and months. I blame myself and let them ruin my entire day.

I figured out that it isn't anger that I feel so much as it is embarrassment and fear. I feel embarrassed that my child is acting inappropriately, and I don't even have to be in public. I worry that her behavior is a reflection of my parenting (which I know, in part, that it is-- along with a mix of her age, personality, and temperament). I fear judgment from teachers and other parents.

Although most of the time she is great for her teachers and other adults. She saves the best for me.

I feel fear because I want her to be liked. I want her to have friends. I want her to be well thought-of. I fear that people will not know all of the wonderful things about her.

Embarrassment. Fear. Not anger.

So, I have decided to stop fighting fire with fire. It's not getting me anywhere. It's not anger that I feel, anyway. I must remember that.

In the moment, I need a tool to turn to so that I don't spiral out of control.

After some extensive Internet research, I found this, and I think it is great. Consequences that make sense.

Not only do these consequences make sense to a child, but they make sense to me, too. They make me feel good and not crazy. They make me feel fair and reasonable.

This chart comes from the blog, Meaningful Mama. She does a great job of explaining her reasoning, and I found myself nodding in agreement. Check it out.

If nothing else, I felt better because I knew I wasn't alone. 

Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. It isn't about instant gratification. It may take years to reap the benefits of a decision we make today. 

I love my children, and I love being their mama. 

I love the good days.

And for the bad days, I love my wine.

1 comment

  1. I needed this today... And pretty much every day (maybe I should bookmark this, or print it out!). I'm dealing with a very similar situation with my 4 year old. I have tried a lot of methods and all of them fail, and I know I'm at fault (at least partly). It's so frustrating! But on the good days, it makes me think I'm at least doing something right. I'm glad I'm not alone in this! Thanks for posting this!