It was the day after I returned from Haiti. I was tired and the morning routine that I had basically created for our family seemed foreign and off. So I sat at the table drinking coffee in the morning darkness of this cool Fall Minnesota day. Astrid sat across the dining room table from me. She was writing “words” and scribbles on a piece of paper. Next to each “sentence” were two boxes and above the row of boxes she wrote the words “yes” and “no.”
“Whatcha doing?” I asked quietly.
“I’m making a quiz for you to take this morning.” She said with her eyes and hands still busy with her task.
“A quiz? That should be interesting.” I responded with a bit of a giggle.
“You need to take this seriously.” She said as she looked up at me with sad eyes. “Okay, I’m done. So let’s start. You need to answer yes or no to the following questions.”
She began..”Will you snuggle with me before school today, yes or no?”
“Yes – of course I will.” I replied. She made a little check mark in the “yes” box next to that question. And she continued on with questions that I easily said yes to. “Will you make me a special breakfast, will you help me make my bed, will you do your special piggies in my hair, will you pick me up from school, will we eat lunch together, will you bring me to dance tonight, will you be there for dinner, will you help me shower and brush my teeth, will you read me a story, will you help me with homework, will you tuck me in bed, and maybe will you snuggle in bed with me for a few minutes?” Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…and easy quiz went on.
But then came the last question. And Astrid paused for a moment before she asked me. I wondered if she was considering just skipping that one, or that maybe she didn’t like what the answer would be so it was hard for her to even voice it.
“Will you promise to never leave me again, Mama.” She asked in almost a whisper as she looked up at me with her messy morning hair that covered her eyes.
“I can’t say yes to that, Love.” I said. Wondering if I sounded too brutal and firm and mean, having just returned from two weeks away. Wondering if it would be better to just lie and say that of course I’d never leave her again.
But I can’t do that to my children. A lie and a promise I’d have to break would be more devastating than teaching them the resilience of knowing the truth. And that sad things will happen to all of us. And just because I’m gone for a few weeks doesn’t mean that I don’t love her or think of her or carry her in my heart. Loving and missing someone so much that it hurts is part of the human experience. And it’s okay to be sad.
“I’ll have to leave you sometimes, Astrid. You know that. Just like sometimes you and your sisters leave me – for school and for friends and for camp. But it doesn’t mean we are not still a family even though we are not together. I love you no matter where I am and I will always be ‘here'( I point to our hearts) for you. But yes, sometimes mommy leaves. But I come back.” I say this as I stand and go to pick her up, but she pushes me away and tells me that she needs to be alone for a minute.
And I respect that. It’s hard to understand something that you don’t like without the benefit of experience or age.
Parenting is hard and beautiful, and having pieces of your heart running around on the outside of your body causes emotions that one cannot describe unless you experience it. And I think we all start with a goal to parent somewhere between telling kids to “suck it up” and “let me do everything for you” as we find our comfortable boundaries.
In our home we’ve set expectations for our kids very high, we’ve set clear boundaries, we have clear follow-through on rules, and we live as a family with a mutual respect for all. I think this clear path from the beginnings of our parenting journey 12 years ago has made life very easy for us. We have “good” kids that are good to others and we’ve never had to break up a sibling fight, give a punishment or time-out, or any other typical kid ‘infraction’ you can think of. Maybe we’re lucky and our kids have very even temperaments or maybe we did some things right, or maybe a little bit of both.
And we’ve done this without any parenting books. I’ll admit I’m not a fan – but also have never felt the need to seek advice. And when my dear friend Dr. G first asked if I would read her effective parenting book, I at first thought “Nah, I really don’t need that.” But I’m glad I told her to send it over anyway.
Because her book is more like a fun and practical conversation with her over coffee. She doesn’t come off in a way that “she knows your children best” – her theory is that WE all know OUR own children best and are the experts of our own family..and then lays the groundwork for raising smart, respectful, and resilient kids. I found myself nodding over and over again as I read each section as Deborah and I agree so much on the basics for getting good behavior. Because we need to all remember – we aren’t raising children, we are raising adults that we want to hang-out with, and that are productive and socially aware and giving and respectful…so we are giving them the skills they need to then raise the next generation.
Dr. G focuses on three main points – Respect, Responsibility, and Resilience. I love this so much – because THIS is how our family lives each day. With mutural respect for each other and our world, with everyone pulling their weight and giving, and with honesty and tools to be resilient because not everything is going to go your way and that bad things happen….and that’s okay.
Reading her book brought a smile on my face as I thought about the conversation with Astrid last week. That I know she’s resilient enough to know the truth that mommy will have to leave her again and again. And that she will be okay. Even if it means it might take her awhile to give me that hug to let me know that she gets why I have to go.
Dr. G’s book “Get The Behavior You Want, Without Being The Parent You Hate” is available to purchase now. And truly – I cannot recommend it enough. Great tips for living with the “3 R’s” for all ages. I know I’ll be referencing this book more as we hit the teen years!
I was not paid for this review and all words, opinions, and parenting wins and failures are truly my own. xo