Friday, February 26, 2016

Home Is Where...

Home Is Where the Heart Is I Get Called a Bastard

A few weeks ago, both big boys came home from school with Kindness and Caring awards. Each month or two, their elementary school highlights a character trait (respect, responsibility, perseverance, honesty, etc.), and at the end of the month, two children who best exhibit that trait are selected from each class. The boys have been honored with character awards before, but never in the same month and never kindness. And since there may be nothing in this world I desire more than to raise kind and brave children, I shed many grateful tears over those awards.

The irony is, however, that a few days later I received an email from someone who told me what an awful mother I am, specifically pointing out the hateful way my boys sometimes talk to me, although, the emailer conceded, they had never done the same to him/her. Not surprisingly, there is a bigger story surrounding this message delivered under the guise of constructive criticism, but this part of the email, at least on the surface, was actually all truth. I can count on one hand the number of times my boys have spoken rudely to anyone else, but they have said some truly horrifying things to Mister and me. (Where is the baby book that includes in its list of milestones items like The First Time Your Child Called You a Bastard?)

It may surprise my emailer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When my boys are home, they have to be reminded constantly to pick up their dirty clothes and clear the table and hang up their backpacks and jackets. They forget to say “please” and “thank you” and eat like they were, honest to goodness, being raised in a barn. They balk when I ask them to empty the dishwasher. They gripe that it’s their responsibility to take out the trash and recycling. They sass me when they’re tired or hungry or if they think something is unfair or if the wind is blowing in from the south. They call me names and throw their binders when I try to help with homework. They behave so horribly sometimes that I worry about sending them into the world like this – so obviously works in progress – but send them I must – to school, to their grandparents’ homes, to their coaches, to friends’ houses.

And over and over, I am told they are respectful, courteous, exceptionally well-mannered, helpful, kind, brave, coachable, teachable, and generally just a delight to be around. My boys. The very same ones I worry about sending into the world. (The first few times their teachers offered descriptions of their behavior in class, behavior I hardly recognized as belonging to my children, I responded with puzzled looks. But I reminded the teachers of the boys’ names and provided a general description of their physical appearances, and the teachers insisted, each and every time, they had the right child. So I stopped asking.)

Despite all my worries that I have been raising boys who aren’t fit for public consumption, they are. Despite their providing numerous, daily indications to the contrary, they have been learning what I’ve been trying to teach them. Despite my certainty that most days we’re barely muddling through, they’re thriving. Somehow, we’re doing it.

And yet at home? At home, they can’t seem to pull their stuff together for more than a few minutes at a stretch. Why, for the love, can’t they act at home how they act out in the world?

Well, first, they can. It’s easy to see the misbehaving and miss the good stuff. How the “bigs” will bathe the littlest. Or how the littlest will accompany the “middlest” to find something in another room when the worry bullies are especially feisty. Or when the oldest finally – finally – put into practice the time management and study skills I’ve been working on for months. Or when they say thank you for dinner, even one that included peas. Or when they put aside competitiveness and congratulate another on a job well done. It’s there. It’s all there. I just have to remember to notice.

But the answer to why they let all the crazy hang loose at home?

Because they feel safe.

Don’t misunderstand, calling me “bastard” or yelling “I hate you!” or any of the myriad other horrifying things my boys have said to me (most of which I won’t risk embarrassing them with) isn’t without consequence. But that consequence isn’t to shut them down so forcefully and completely that they actually fear doing it again.

Because when my boys act up, they’re trying, if inartfully, to communicate something to me. Sometimes, it’s as simple as “I’m hungry” or “I’m tired.” But other times, it’s bigger stuff.

My brilliant therapist once told me that anger is always a secondary emotion. Anger may be a way we react to embarrassment, guilt, grief, unfairness, remorse, fear, frustration, or other emotions. But there’s always something deeper. The trick is figuring out what the something is.

I don’t think it’s fair I have to take out the trash and recycling when he gets to play.

I miss Daddy.

I made a mistake, and I feel deeply remorseful.

I try so hard, day in and day out, and I feel like all the recognition goes to my brother.

He’s been pushing my buttons all day long.

I got caught.

I don’t want you to leave.

I’ve been adulting all day and just can’t even hold it together for one more second.

Oh, wait. That last one was about me.

We all do it, right? Whose kiddos and spouses and others nearest and dearest too often get their leftovers? Mine do. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. And I do it because I know that I can screw up over and over and over (and over) again, and they’ll still love me. My mother forgives me for being less than patient with her and welcomes me back eagerly for visit after visit. Mister will give me the space I need or tell me to cut out my nonsense, whichever is appropriate, and want to sneak upstairs with me and lock the door five minutes later. When I snap at the boys and forget to apologize, they still snuggle in for bedtime reading and assure me I’m the best mommy in the world. I don’t feel the same confidence the rest of the world will react with such graciousness. And neither do my children. They have some of the best teachers and coaches and friends a mother could hope for, and I am deeply grateful. But home is just different. Home is the ultimate safe place. The place where they never have to wonder if love is unconditional.

At home, the boys know if they speak rudely or scream something hateful or sass me, I will take the time to figure out what’s at the root of it all. Sometimes right then if they can turn it around or sometimes after a snack or sometimes after a cooling off period in their rooms. They learn that speaking to me disrespectfully is wrong not because I punish them swiftly and harshly for the disrespect but because I treat them with respect – because I take the time to figure out what’s REALLY wrong, address the underlying issue, and then remind them how they could handle the situation better next time. That doesn’t mean that they don’t sometimes hear some sharply spoken words about how to and how not to address me (especially when the root cause is something superficial). That’s just not the whole of it.

So although my emailer intended the comments as scathing criticism, I refuse to see it as such. I’m far from a perfect parent (for starters, I’m too quick to anger and wash sheets far too infrequently), but the observation is a compliment. Yes, my children say things to me that are wildly inappropriate. But they almost never do the same to anyone outside our home. Because they know two things: Speaking disrespectfully to others is not okay, and home is safe.

And that isn’t a sign I’m doing something wrong in my parenting. It’s a sign I’m doing something right.

No comments:

Post a Comment