I am living in the tension.
We were running to an appointment, and I knew I needed to get food in the child to keep her blood sugar normal. We know that protein is important, and the only quick place to stop for a protein that she would want was fast food. I don’t normally buy the stuff, but a hamburger is a quick and easy option to get in the belly. I also try to keep balance, knowing we are not eating fast food all the time but every once in a while it isn’t going to hurt. I ordered the burger, just as requested, and we drove away.
The rage appeared suddenly. Crying came – words didn’t. What was going on? As we merged onto the freeway I could finally understand what had caused the distress – pickles and mustard. How dare they! I expected her to gain control so we could work through things in a productive way. We have learned to problem solve together.
Once the screaming and hyperventilating had stopped, we addressed the problem at hand. How was she feeling? Frustrated. Was that the right way to respond to her feelings? No. If she had addressed the issue differently from the get go, could I have quickly turned the car around and asked the restaurant to make the order right? Yes. Will we handle this differently in the future? Yes. Am I going to solve the problem by stopping someplace else to buy her a new hamburger? No. She didn’t handle things correctly, and I don’t believe in rewarding her outburst by sweeping in to solve the problem in that manner. Could I try and wipe the dreaded mustard and pickles off the burger? Yes, let’s try that.
“IT DIDN’T WORK!! AHHH! MY HAMBURGER WAS RUINED!” There were still trace amounts of the mustard, and I was pretty sure the end of the world was coming.
I am living in the tension.
The fact is that she tends to get low blood sugar, and it’s important to get food in her body or the rage could get worse. However, buying her another hamburger seemed to be rewarding her breakdown. Do I drag it out and make her earn the money to pay for new food? Do I just go and buy her a different snack to make sure we get the food her body needs? Do I let her suffer the discomfort of hunger and being out of balance so that she learns to handle things differently next time?
The tension is finding the balance of grace and discipline. It’s the constant wrestling with the idea, “Am I being too hard or too soft?
Many would hear this story and say, “Your kid is a spoiled brat and just needs more discipline. Don’t buy her more food. She’ll learn.” Part of me thinks that might be the case and part of me sees that we have tried that for many years, and it has not worked.
Others might hear the story, know our back story and say, “That child needs more understanding. You’re too hard on her. Maybe she had a bad day. Perhaps her blood sugar is off or her struggles with sensory issues have manifested themselves. Get the kids some food!”
This is called living in the tension.
I am a firm believer in teaching obedience. In our house, whining and crying doesn’t get you what you want. I have never purchased my child something at the store because they threw a fit. Certain behavior is met with consequences. Sought after behavior is highly praised and sometimes rewarded. I believe that parents can be too soft, resulting in spoiled and entitled children. I’ve read the science behind parenting and have my own spiritual convictions about raising kids. In fact, consistency and discipline seem to work with my other children.
I also believe deeply in grace and loving children through their struggles. There are parents who are dictators, driving a wedge between them and their children, and we try and avoid that. Learning to listen, problem solve and develop a strong bond and relationship is important to me. Compassion in parenting is also vital.
The tension begins.
I am aware of the importance of showing empathy, but I also don’t want to show compassion to unacceptable behavior, therefore encouraging future negative responses. Tension.
I don’t want to be too hard and drive her away, but I don’t want to be too soft and allow the meltdowns to continue. Tension.
I want to speak truth to her – teaching what is right, good and calling out or disciplining behavior that is undesirable, but I want to be grace to her – teaching her that she is loved, heard and forgiven. Tension.
I want to set my child up for success, acknowledging and accommodating her needs, yet, I want to recognize that the world isn’t going to always accommodate her needs, and it shouldn’t. It’s not about making everything comfortable for my child. It’s about teaching her that life is hard, not fair and won’t always feel good. Our personal struggles don’t give an excuse for treating other people poorly. Our situations are not an excuse for temper tantrums. It’s about teaching my child that despite how she has been made or the hardships that come, she is responsible for how she responds. Tension.
There is not pretty bow to wrap around my story. Living in tension is part of parenting. It is a tension I chose to live with because I want to get the balance between grace and discipline right. It’s a tension we all live in as we aim to raise our kids well. It’s a sign of a mom who cares, so don’t let the tension steal the joy.