He only had one job.
Make the bed, and then come have lunch. For my son, cleaning is the bane of his existence to start with, but the bed-making is a constant battle, especially with the fitted sheet. What kills me every time are his tearful requests:
“Mommyyyyyy…. can you helllllp meeeee?”
The inner dialogue of my fragile mommy heart sounds like this:
I want to help you, son with the big beautiful blue eyes…I want to take all your painful memories of bed-making away! But I also want you to grow up to be a responsible human being…
I took a deep breath and said, “No, son. I need you to struggle with this a little bit. It’s only been two minutes, you haven’t tried long enough to figure it out for yourself. I know you can do it, you’ve done it before.”
His chest caved in and his little face contorted in agony. Big tears welled up and dripped down his cheeks, heavy sobs shook him from head to toe as his bottom lip quivered. I held his face, kissed his pitiful little forehead and said, “You. Can. Do. This.”
I calmly walk out of the room and immediately wanted to cry, too. Why does this have to be so hard? Was I expecting too much of him? But I honestly knew he could do it because I’ve made him persist through this issue before. The first time, it took about three hours between fist punching the mattress in frustration, laying down in defeat, and bargaining pleas….and my son was worse! (haha)
But gradually, the duration of the tantrums lessened, and he figured out ways to make it happen. This time was no different, and as the whimpering subsided, after being left to himself, he made it happen.
We all have coping mechanisms that trigger us to avoid discomfort. It’s a natural human reaction to escape these feelings, but there is a difference between good and bad pain. Cloud & Townsend put it this way in their book How People Grow:
“Bad pain comes from repeating old patterns and avoiding the suffering it would take to change them, because many times people suffer because of their own character faults… bad pain is basically wasted pain. It is the pain we go through to avoid the good pain of growth that comes from pushing through.”
“Good” pain happens when we have no other choice but to overcome. Kids can’t push through difficult tasks if their parent is always right there, ready to rescue them, or make it easier in some way. Are there times for appropriate help? Absolutely, but it’s good to give kids the chance to challenge themselves before the help is offered. Not to mention, that extra tug on our heart strings, that gnawing feeling that their negative memories will forever be chalked up to the “bad parent” side of the scoreboard.
Good news: There is no scoreboard. Only opportunities for love and grace.
Even when we feel like we blow it, kids are resilient, and they have such an amazing capacity for love. Deep down, they will respect you more for sticking to your guns and allowing them to experience something new.
Let me encourage you friend, it’s actually a very healthy thing to remove yourself from their situation so they can wrestle with the issue at hand.
As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” meaning, they will come up with a way to problem-solve if they have to. Our job is to make room for the “have to.” Step away for a bit, and let them work for the solution themselves. Don’t be afraid of their pain, don’t shoulder it for them. Inspire them to accept the need for hardship that produces success.
Each time we go through similar situations, I realize that his journey in wrestling with the choice to do the right thing, is nothing compared to my temporary strain of parental protection. I can’t protect him from the necessary struggle to learn perseverance. If I did, it would be my struggle, not his.
It’s All Good
My son came out after ten minutes to announce he was finished. When I checked, I noticed that he had gone over and above what I expected, laying three layers of blankets and propping up his pillows and stuffed animals. On my approving nod and smile, he happily bounced off to have his lunch.
In my son’s limited life experience, he has felt the intense pain of disappointment, anger, and frustration. But after watching him wrestle through these experiences, he has become a more patient, intentional, and understanding little person. He just needed time and space to process the feelings in his own way, and then decide the fight wasn’t worth it. He learned perseverance in the moments that I chose not to rescue him.
Know that the best results come when the struggle is allowed to happen. It’s a good one, and it’s worth it.
“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…” – Romans 5:2-5