Just when I think I’ve got this whole motherhood thing figured out (which usually lasts about four point three seconds), one of my three throws another curve ball. This time it was my oldest.
For the majority of her seven years of life, my oldest has been my easiest- compliant, mature, helpful, gentle, trustworthy. She is big sister to two brothers (ages four and one) and exhibits first born qualities through out the day, every day. She is my helper, my sidekick, my shadow. So when, on a now forgotten date, some weeks ago, she began exhibiting behaviors I had never seen in her before, I quickly became more than a little perplexed.
Dark was her mood for many of those days, and not in the way of a young child, not in the way of her brothers when they pout or whine or lash out. This was different. This was new. -Honestly, she reminded me of my darkest days as a teenager, days when I was sullen and brooding and weepy with no idea why or what in the world to do about it. (“Can a seven year old be hormonal??” I kept thinking. “Surely not!”)- Many tears were shed over those few weeks (most of them hers, a couple mine), as I wondered what was happening to my girl and what was I, her mama, going to do about it? But it wasn’t until last week that I became alarmed when she not once, but twice within a few days time, was physically unkind to her brother.
Now I realize that in many households this is normal- siblings fight, siblings hit and push or worse- and would not necessarily be cause for alarm. But this has never been the case in our home. (ok, I take that back, my one year old hits when he is mad -or frustrated or whatever it is that one year olds get- and that was probably the case when my other two were that age as well.) But now, and for as long as I can remember, Meadow and Granite do not and have not been siblings that physically fight. So last week when one argument with Granite led to her angrily pushing him off the bed with her foot and another involved her hitting his leg in response to something he said, I knew something just wasn’t right. (Both times I happened to walk in the room right as she did it, allowing me to observe and understand in a way I could not have had I only learned about it through Granite telling on her. I think that was a God thing.)
So last Thursday night (after the morning that Meadow hit Granite’s leg, her second “offense”) we were in the car on the way home, Meadow and Granite bickering in the very back seat of the van, Chaz and I talking quietly in the front as I tried not to overreact to the bickering, and Canyon observing it all from his carseat in the middle, when I brought up the hitting incident and expressed my concerns about what was going on with Meadow. I had mentioned her behavior several times prior but not with as much emphasis or concern. “I don’t know what to do with her. I don’t understand where this behavior is coming from.” were some of my words to my husband. And it was right around that time that the bickering in the backseat escalated (once again, as had happened so many times that week, thanks to Meadow) to the point that Meadow was told by her father not to speak again until we got home (about five minutes away).
“You guys go on inside. I’m going to stay in the car and talk to Meadow.” were Chaz’s words to me as we pulled into our driveway. I gathered the boys and their bags, headed inside and began getting them both ready for bed, all the while thinking about my girl and wondering what was being said in the van sitting under our carport.
About fifteen minutes later father and daughter entered our back door and Meadow quickly, quietly headed to her room to get ready for bed, Granite following her close behind. I greeted them both from the couch then watched Meadow walk away, noting that I would talk with her after talking to my hubby. Standing, with Canyon on my hip, I asked my hubby how the talk went, what was said, what was her response to him. Almost immediately his eyes filled with tears. Alarmed and surprised I waited for him to speak. He recounted their conversation, speaking the words that brought his tears-
“A few minutes into the conversation it dawned on me to ask, ‘Has someone been treating you that way?’ (referencing her hitting and pushing her brother), to which she immediately answered, ‘Yes, Amaya next door hits and pushes me sometimes and she yells at me.’”
At that point he paused, giving me a chance to gently ask, “Why the tears?”
“It’s just so pitiful. She’s never been treated that way by anyone. And you know it’s been on her mind by how quickly she answered me. Just picturing her dealing with that and thinking about that…” he kind of trailed off at that point, tears still filling his eyes.
We talked for a minute more before the older two ran back into the room, then decided to continue the conversation later, after all the
loud short people were in bed. I hugged my husband fiercely, so very grateful for his care and concern for our daughter and our family, and kissed him goodbye as he headed back out the door to return to work for several more hours.
And for the rest of that night and for the past week since, Meadow has been back to her usual self- chipper, talkative, helpful, occasionally emotional, sometimes selfish, silly, gentle and kind. Her mood has been joyful, her aura light, her energy pure. Our home has returned to its usual state- quiet and peaceful, full of chatter and laughter, with a bit of arguing and bickering mixed in.
And all this week I have asked myself: How could one conversation with her daddy release my girl from the torment that was causing such ugly behavior, such emotion, such a dark mood for so much of those three weeks?
This is what I have come up with, these are the lessons I have learned (or relearned maybe?) from the kid next door:
1) Learn to ask good questions. I think sometimes our children/the people around us are hurting or thinking/feeling things that they need to express and just don’t know how to without a little prompting. Learn to ask good questions. And lots of them.
2) Don’t always take a child’s/person’s behavior at face value. Children/people are selfish creatures and much of their ugly behavior stems from this. But other times they are only reacting out of the hurt that they are experiencing or feeling. Don’t assume their bad behavior is just them being “bad”. It could be from them feeling hurt.
3) Don’t be naive and assume that the children your children are playing with are going to treat them with respect and kindness. Be observant. Be vigilant. Be appropriately protective, especially until your children are old enough to protect themselves.
4) And lastly: There is power in the spoken word. I have learned (relearned) this for myself recently as I have fought some ugly demons (another post for another time) and watched the stronghold that these demons have had on my heart loosen each time I confess/express/speak them to a friend or family member. I saw that same power the night Chaz talked with Meadow. So speak, my friends, speak! Find someone you trust, someone who loves you and speak your truth, speak your struggle, speak your demons. Find the faith, the humility, the guts, and speak! And if you have no one, no one in your life to listen with compassion, please, please message me. I know an incredible counselor and would love to pass along his number. I am also a willing listener myself. Speak what weighs on your heart and watch as the load begins to lighten.
I hurt when my children hurt. I so much want to protect them, protect myself, avoid any and all hurt as well as I possibly can. But I am also learning that life’s hurts usually lead to life’s greatest lessons. And that that is one small/huge piece in our story of redemption. So I am also grateful. Grateful and learning and hurting and laughing. Thanks for reading, friends. Let me know if you need me.