It was a cool Friday evening...
My oldest son, 7, had just gotten off of the bus and when he got inside he immediately asked if he could go outside and play. I said, "Sure". His 5 year old brother joined him and they began playing basketball in our backyard. Now, we only have one of those moveable kid plastic basketball hoops so they had set it up against my fence to play.
I was inside with my younger two and looked out the window to see my 5 year old about to make a basket and my 7 year old closing in on him fairly quickly. My oldest lunged towards his younger brother pushing him down and his head smacked the pole on the fence. Luckily, he was wearing a thick winter hat so he was okay - but crying nonetheless. I opened the back door and walked out back and told my oldest to take a 1-minute break. (That honestly surprised me as it came out of my mouth because he honestly should have sat out for longer than that - but that's what came out of my mouth at the moment so that's what was going to happen.) He got mad and stomped off and I picked up his brother from the ground to make sure he was okay.
After checking on his brother I turn around to a stick... like a big stick - probably 2 feet long and the thickness of a kids marker, coming at me. Not just a gentle throw either - to show annoyance but like a legit, baseball throw that was meant to hit me. It missed, thankfully. I looked up at him with a face that I'm not sure he had ever seen before. I was bombarded with feelings of anger (obvi), shock (I had never seen this before), and confusion (reminder that I had told him to take a ONE MINUTE break...) He immediately started crying and saying, "I didn't think it was going to hit you..."
The only thing I could muster was, "Get in your room and I will be there in a second."
I think discipline is so important so I don't like to react immediately when it's something huge like this. What I wanted to do was spank him with the stick. (And we aren't even parents that spank our kids.) Part of me felt like that was so incredibly unacceptable that he needed to have some immediate discipline.
I am a big fan of keeping kids in their place as children. Not in a controlling way but I want my kids to have the freedom to be children and have zero burden of adult responsibilities. I want them to know that in this home: they are safe and loved and are free to play and learn and their mom and dad are in control of everything outside of that. That is a safe space for children to be. That is the safe place where they can explore and learn and test boundaries. That is the place where they learn to respect authority and where they build relationships with their peers (brothers). It is where they are free to find their interests and to find where they struggle. They can be short-sided because they don't feel the burdens adults do.
Until they start to "hop the guardrail".
I see our job as parents to be like a guardrail. We let them explore and live within the safe boundaries of our loving rules/expectations. When they try to cross those boundaries that is when me and/or their dad step in and a challenge happens. We go head to head. My kid wants out and we know they can't handle it.
Side note: Guardrails should widen as they get older. Not get more narrow.
I'm going to add another analogy... so bare with me. I heard at a marriage conference once that our culture tends to parent like an upside down funnel (so the wide part is at the bottom.) When they are young, the 2/3/4 year olds...we tend to let them get away with all kinds of stuff because, "It's cute" or because "they don't know any better" and then when they get older they continue to act out or talk back and it isn't cute anymore and now we are freaking out because now we know they DO know better. At this point, we try to suffocate them with rules and boundaries (we didn't have for them when they were little) and then they rebel like crazy!
Instead, let's flip that funnel back to the way it was intended and have a super tight leash with our 2/3/4 year olds so they know right from wrong because...spoiler alert...they do know better at that age. Then, as they get older and older we can give them more and more space to make decisions and have freedom. When we are consistent in the beginning it lays a good foundation for children to understand expectations and what lines to cross/not cross. This is parenting in a way that makes a child feel safe to make their own choices and you have confidence that as they grow-up they know and respect boundaries.
Back to the story:
So, clearly, here was a moment where my child had not only gotten annoyed with the guardrail but got physical about it and we went head to head.
The problem was, you guys, I had ZERO idea how to handle this. This was new ground for me. NEVER has any of my boys gotten physical or thrown an object at me that was intended to hurt me. I was just glad he showed remorse immediately so I could check 'sociopath' off my list of possible outcomes. Lol, but seriously. But on top of that - he was my sweet one! My compliant one. My easy one. So as much as I wanted to retaliate and give some massive form of punishment - I felt conflicted. I froze.
Here were my thoughts running through my head. (pretty much all at once)
-Um, he needs to get knocked into next week because that was completely out of line.
-What is wrong with him? He came home from school in a perfectly good mood.
-Why was that the reaction for a 1-minute break?
-Is there something else going on here?
-We did just have our foster kids reunify 3 days ago and he didn't get to say goodbye because it happened very quickly and while he was at school.
-His teacher he had all year left the SAME day our foster kids reunified (his actual teacher came the first day and then went on maternity leave).
-This is totally out of character so I should probably have some grace and choose to talk with him instead of freak out on him.
-No, I need to freak out on him. I don't care what he went through he can NEVER throw a stick at someone, let alone his mother, let alone a woman, let alone ANYONE.
-He was clearly remorseful so maybe I should just let him sit on that feeling of almost hurting his mama and feel the weight of that for awhile. *Truth*
-Maybe I should go in and give him a big hug and tell him that it was completely unacceptable but that I love him even when he doesn't make good choices. *Grace*
I could go on...a lot of these things ended up happening. I let him sit with that feeling for awhile while I figured out my thoughts. We also talked through things, I told him I loved him even when he doesn't make good choices. I told him I make choices when I'm upset sometimes and regret them just like he just did. I made it clear that I love him but was also very direct about that never happening again. He was grounded for the night from all TV, electronics, and play. He could read and that was it. He also got a talking to from his dad.
Justin has zero tolerance, as he should, for the boys back talking me or disrespecting me in any way. We are raising husbands and fathers and men out in this world. He was clearly disappointed with him and that was hard for my oldest.
I saw a bumper sticker once that said, "Proud parent of a (school mascot) Honor roll student...who is sometimes an asshole." HA. Literally on the back of a minivan. She drove off and I just smiled. How true can both of those things be at times. How true can this be of us!!? We act like crazy people sometimes who are impulsive and childlike and we are adults. So yes, let's set firm boundaries for our children but let's also remember they are humans learning to navigate and regulate their emotions and actions.
Now, all of this to say.
I don't care how good of a mother you are or how consistent and loving you are. You are not immune to your children back-talking, being defiant or acting out. I started wondering if I somehow fostered a relationship where he felt like this was an okay thing to do. But of course I hadn't. That would never fly and didn't fly. I would never be okay with this and the look on his face after the fact showed, in that moment, that he knew he crossed a line. THAT LOOK, that look you guys, is the look that showed me I had set a boundary and HE knew it and HE chose to cross it.
When our children act like psycho people (especially out in public) we feel like it's a reflection of us and our parenting.
But it's not.
It's a reflection of a child who was overwhelmed and mad and made an impulsive bad decision without thinking it through. This is normal.
Your identity as a mother is not wrapped up in that impulsive childlike behavior.
You're identity is in Christ alone.
Godspeed mama, keep fighting the good fight.
"Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." -Galations 6:9