That Time My Mom Made Me Cry

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This post goes out to all of my sister-moms who have toddlers and preschoolers who push back like it’s their job, who seem to make it their life’s goal to illustrate the old adage that kids are 800% worse when their mom is around. I’ve been there. You’re a good mom. It gets better.

I think Cam must have been about three, possibly three and a half. I was on the phone with my mom and she said something that made me absolutely sob.  

We were planning for him to spend a weekend at my parents’ house and she said, “Oh, we can’t wait! He’s such a little doll and is so sweet when he’s here, we just enjoy him so much.”

I remember saying something about how glad I was, excusing myself from the phone call, hanging up and just sobbing.

You wouldn’t think something like that, someone saying wonderful things about my child, would hurt my heart and wreck me. But it did. Those words put a crack in the dam that had been holding back my sadness and frustration in this season of motherhood and the feelings and the tears just came spilling over.

Both sets of grandparents, his preschool teacher, the Sunday School teachers at church, his babysitters- everyone told me he was this happy, fun, cooperative, delightful kid. I heard it all the time.

But they were talking about a version of my child that I pretty much never got to see for myself.  

In that season, Cam was fighting with me like it was his one and only job on the entire planet. I would ask him if he wanted milk or water, he said he wanted milk, I gave him milk, he got ugly angry because I didn’t give him water. If he couldn’t get a toy to work right, he would come running across the room to hit me because CLEARLY this was my fault. He hit me multiple times a day. And do not even get me started on bedtime. I cannot express the rage and tears at bedtime- and sometimes he even cried as well.

It was around this same time that I told my husband one evening that was considering going into Cam’s room and sleeping next to him. Visibly crestfallen, assuming it was something he had done, my sweet husband asked why I wanted to sleep next to our son instead of him. “Because, honey,” I responded, “I can enjoy your company when you’re awake. When Cameron is sleeping is the only time he’s not fighting me. If I want actually enjoy being around him, this is my only shot.”  That my husband understood completely...

Jeff and I were throwing absolutely everything that we and people much smarter than us had at this. We asked our parents. We talked to our pediatrician. We Googled until every single link under every single possible word combination search was purple.  I spent hours on the phone and Facebook with my friends who were experts in child development in various ways. We taught calming strategies, alternatives to hitting, we gave grace, we gave consequences, we tried ignoring the bad behaviors and praising the good, we tried giving all the choices and taking all the choices away- and everything we tried felt like throwing deck chairs off of a sinking ship.  Nothing seemed to make even a dent in his compulsive need to push back HARRRRRRRRD against absolutely everything.  

I was exhausted and sad.  I had dreamed my whole life of being a mom, waited patiently until I was 34 years old before my dream came true, and now that I was living the reality that I dreamed of, I never got to actually enjoy my own kid.  And while I was so grateful that I got all of it and that he was wonderful when he went outside our doors, in that moment, it broke my heart to think that everyone else seemed to be enjoying my child but me. Everyone else was experiencing what I craved and prayed for.

I can’t tell you when exactly the transition happened, I think 4 ½ was our turning point, but at some point, it all started to come together. At some point, he matured and mellowed.  Over the course of a few months, we started to FINALLY see the results of the hard, hard parenting we had been doing.  All of a sudden, he started USING the strategies we had repeated ad nauseum.  He started respecting our authority and accepting our guidance rather than pushing back as if he were trying to break us.

Now he’s five, off at kindergarten, and basically winning at life. Do we still struggle?  Oh, yes.  Particularly now that he’s off at school, he’s testing his boundaries here and there all over again and I can stand him in front of a pile of his clothes and he still “forgets” to get dressed.  But I get to enjoy him now. The happy, excited, cooperative kid everyone always talked about finally shows up for Mommy now as well and I’m sure I appreciate it way more than I would have if it had been there all along.

Looking in the rear view mirror,  I can see that the reason he pushed back like it was his job is because IT WAS HIS JOB!  Pushing boundaries is how kids learn about the world and I have the kid who needs to deeply understand #allthethings and how they work. And as desperately as I loved him in that season, he loved me desperately right back and NEEDED me even more deeply.  I was Mama, I was Everything, I was safe, I was the one he needed to learn it all with.  So he pushed as hard as he could at the place he knew he could trust not to buckle, to give, and to love him anyway.  As much as it hurt, it was the greatest compliment he could have given me.

So stay strong, Mama.  Hold the line. Stand firm while letting your little one know how deeply they are loved.  Research best practices, learn your child, hold strong, and be patient. It does get better. And all of your hard work will show up.  You are exactly the right mom for those babies of yours and don’t you forget it.