This is not a story on “Boys will be boys.”
This is not a story on “When you get an easy child you are definitely due for a tough one.”
This is not even a story about labeling my child as anything really other than himself. I shy away from that as much as I can. He is who God made him, and he is remarkable.
This is a story about a boy who was who he was.
And a mom who was who she was.
And the point when it becomes clear that two people can be made different. Different can be hard.
But hard can get easier.
Here is the story I have struggled to write for over a year now. Here is the story that I knew I could not write until it was better understood. Until it was my story, not his. I let him tell his story. Now here is mine...
“He’s really hard.”
It was those three words that I was afraid to hear.
It was those three words that I needed to hear.
It was those three words that changed my perspective on parenting.
“He is hard.” I said, the words catching in my throat. The kind of words that you think might bring you sadness or embarrassment but in this moment, gathered with my dearest friends who knew me for me, as a person not a mom, it was a blanket of relief. Relief often leads to tears. This was no different.
But I didn’t cry the way I had cried for the last few months. I didn’t cry because I felt like a failure. I didn’t cry because I saw myself turning into an “angry mom.” I didn’t cry because being a parent was so darn hard. Because it is so very hard, but it has always been hard. Everyone knows that.
This time was different. This time I cried because I was seen.
When my second was born, the adjustment from one to two was so much easier than I anticipated. I had the confidence and the foresight of a first child. I had the practice of granting grace. And I had far more tricks up my sleeve. My first made me a mom, and she made me a good one. The first year with her was tough but once we checked that off the list, the other milestones tripped by like the pages in my textbooks.
I loved her at age one. I loved her at age two. And, give or take a few unnecessary tantrums, I was loving her at age three.
On his first birthday, my second time through that milestone, I was so thrilled. I did it again. This is where it gets good. This is where I start to shine. I may fumble through the baby years but toddlers are my jam.
Except this is where it gets hard. This is where the story takes an interesting twist. This is where the protagonist, me, meets her antagonist, toddler, the sequel.
He was hard. As soon as his little brain figured out autonomy, he was going to have it. As soon as he found his voice he was going to use it. Everything was bigger, louder, stronger. Movement, opinions, emotions. And while a big happy life is so much fun, it was the big unhappy parts that just broke me.
I tried to be calm. I used quiet reminders when he screamed. I gave him alternative toys when he would throw. I tried to anticipate his sensory needs and meet them before they were a problem.
But let’s be honest, more often I snapped. When you are taken on a roller coaster ride with a toddler speeding through life, you are bound to experience whiplash. I did, in the form of a parenting style I was not proud of.
It’ll get better, I whispered to myself at 13 months, 15 months, 17 months, and on and on. He’s teething. He is just learning to walk. He’s figuring out how to use words. It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase.
But something in me was broken. I felt like I was never ahead of him. I was embarrassed by his behavior and I was ashamed by mine. When I thought I understood the ups and downs of parenting I suddenly felt lost, unnerved, out of balance.
So when I started to complain again to my friends that night I heard myself speaking those vulnerabilities of shame and exasperation. I waited for the words of encouragement that come from friends, the kind we all want to hear but know are probably a lie. Lies are ok from friends. But sometimes the truth is better.
Instead they all looked at me and agreed. “He’s really hard.”
Yes, he is hard. He is loving and cuddly and joyful and dynamic and hilarious. But he is also hard. But not in the “let’s categorize him as one of those ‘hard’ kids.” He was hard because he is different than me. In this moment, they weren’t labeling him. They were allowing me to be seen. I was seen as a person who likes quiet and calm and emotional stability. And when faced with someone who lives life differently, it presented as hard.
To me, he is hard.
Sometimes all you need to hear is not that it will get better (because sometimes it doesn’t for awhile) or that all kids are crazy (because not all kids are) or even heaven forbid another parenting strategy you might want to try (because this is NOT the time for advice.)
Sometimes you just need to hear what you have already been thinking. This child is hard.
The reason I feel I can write this story today, now, months into my battle with the “hard kid” is that I feel like things are getting better. He is still hard. He always will be. His personality is hard wired. And on good days, I am so very grateful to get to see what life looks like through his eyes. It’s big and beautiful and always exciting.
And when it’s not, with time and patience I have learned how to understand a little bit better. I am learning what he needs while not losing who I am. I am learning he is his own incredible and SEPARATE person from me. I am getting to know him, and he is getting to know me.
Sometimes it happens right away. Sometimes you just get each other, parent and child, one in the same. And sometimes it just takes a little bit more practice. It takes a few words to remind you who they are. And to begin to love that part.
I think he may always be hard for me. I think our two personalities will always be fighting to balance one another, to listen to one another, to respect one another. But what a wonderful gift that is.
So to you out there who I didn’t understand when your child was the “crazy one” at story time (first, I am sorry for my judgement,) this story is for you.
To you who feels you are struggling with a child who is “hard,” whatever that may look like to you, this story is for you.
To you who feels alone or out of balance or just plain tired with the personality of your child at 1 week, 1 year, 1 decade, and beyond, this story is for you.
While I have been exploring this part of my story as a parent, I have stumbled upon words of encouragement in specific development struggles that I want to pass along to those who could benefit. I have started to talk about some of it.
I hope you will allow me to share my experience, part knowledge but a whole big part just plain trial and error. Let’s learn together, about our children, but mainly about ourselves.
This is my story, but it could be yours too.