Ever since the Fresh Air girl’s truncated visit, I’ve been fixating on my own children’s bad behavior. Whenever they give me lip, say “no” when I ask them to do a chore, or fight with each other (and they do all of the aforementioned with embarrassing frequency), I find myself getting hyper-anxious. They’re bad kids! I’m a bad mother! I’m not working with them enough! WHAT IS WRONG WITH US!
The youngest ones, in particular, are coping an attitude, and while I’d like to say it’s the after effects of having an attitude-pumped Fresh Air girl around our house, I don’t think I can. I think it’s just them. Or us.
This part of parenting is what drives me crazy. I do everything possible to make our life run like a well-oiled machine—establish lists and routines, monitor and model, and explain, explain, explain—and still, someone is always squawking. I know (hope?) the hard work will pay off, and already there are gratifying signs of success, but still. Shouldn’t this be easier? It makes me blazing bonkers.
Perhaps some of my dissatisfaction stems from the Fresh Air Picnic where I met the mother of a family of twelve—eleven girls and a four-month-old baby boy. The middle school girls clustered around the mother while the older girls watched out for the youngers, and with their red hair and sweet faces, they looked like a whole pack of Anne Shirleys.
Their lineup made me think of an exclamation point.
But it was the mother who really caught my eye. I couldn’t stop staring at her. She was tall and slender with not a single varicose vein in sight. Also? She glowed. And when she walked she glided. A halo hovered just above her head. I saw it.
At one point I went over to Mr. Handsome, poked him in the chest, and nodding in the direction of the saintly mother, said, “You know, if I had twelve kids I might look like that, too.”
He laughed and said, “But I wouldn’t.”
I spent the next couple days musing over this large family. In the process of musing, it occurred to me that mothers of smaller broods often seem more harried and stressed than mothers of larger broods. Has anyone else noticed this? Is it because the older kids are helping out more? Is it because the mothers are resigned to their fates and are fully immersed and unselfish? This is an observation that captivates me. It makes me marvel, and then I re-evaluate how I’m doing things. (But we are not having more kids. What Mr. Handsome said is true—he wouldn’t do so well with a full fifteen passenger van.) (And neither would I.)
Since that picnic and the ensuing days of bad kid behavior, things have mellowed out around here. It took several days of decompression, a supper at Ci-Ci’s, a movie or two, and lots of play time, but things are starting to look up. The cooler weather helps, too.
On Sunday evening I had a talk with the two older kids who had just returned from their second week-long trip (within the past month) and told them that the next day life would be returning to normal. There would be jobs and boring stuff and they’d have to listen to me. “You’ve done a lot of special stuff,” I said. “And it’s been great. But now it’s time to stop thinking about me me me and start thinking about the family. Think about how you can take care of other people, be helpful, do your work without fussing. And when you do that, your day will go much smoother and you’ll have more free time and we can all have fun. Okay?”
And miracles of miracles, it worked! They have been so much more agreeable and helpful and mature! We have exchanges like this:
Me: Hey kid. Will you please go hang out that load of laundry?
Whoa, dude! Rock my world! Is that not totally cool?
Ever since my kids decided to (for once!) take my words to heart (hallelujah!), my stress levels have plummeted, I smile more, and sometimes when I look up I catch a glimpse of a halo hovering.
But just a third of one. I’d need eight more kids to get the real deal.
This post is not a reflection on the ethics of large families. I’m neither here nor there on the subject. There are all kinds of people in this world who live out their beliefs in different, very intriguing ways. It makes the world beautiful, I think.
Also? You don’t need a kid to get a halo. I totally made that part up.
This same time, years previous: how to can peaches
Well… I've heard "I'm just honest" or "I say what I think" used as an excuse for plain old rudeness and obnoxiousness way too many times — and that's from parents, not kids. A kid who talks back and says "no" isn't being evil or rotten, no, but he or she can sure learn to express dissent more civilly. A reasonable, fairly calm argument goes a lot further to convince me than whining and sassing. I don't think you're wrong to help them start thinking about that. It's not blind obedience. It's civility, and there's little enough of it around. Good for you.
And lots of large families aren't a bit angelic. (Thinking of several.)
Why is it that when children fuss we think they're being naughty and when adults don't fuss we think they're pushovers?
I'm not so sure that fussing and talking back and saying no is all that bad. I fuss and talk back and say no plenty myself and does that make me bad?
Maybe they're learning how to express their feelings (rather than stuff them up inside) and form a coherent argument (rather than just take your word for it) and standing up for their own preference (rather than always be meekly obedient).
As annoyed as I can get at these behaviors (from my children, husband or myself), I think they have some merit and indicate character of spirit, honesty with self and others, and willingness to trust in the strength of love in all and through all.
Loved this post! I am surrounded by very conservative branches of the Mennonite community (like horse & buggy conservative). They frequently have large families and when I'm at the grocery store I'm always AMAZED at the behavior of their children. I almost never even hear them make a peep. There will often be 5 or 6 children walking along with their mother as she pushes the cart (usually with a baby or toddler…or both… in tow as well). Not even the babies fuss…ever. If I obseved this once or twice I might pass it off as a fluke, but it's ALL the time.
The best part is when my children are acting fussy or whiny and the other children will look at my children with such consternation, like 'how can they disrespect their mother in this manner?'
i love the exclamation point, too – and I think all perceived halo's come from comparison. Like I think you have one. : )
the domestic fringe
I totally do not have a halo. Mine fell off when my kid turned 18 months old. Seriously, sometimes I totally feel like a mother failure. Jut the other day, I asked my husband if my kid was acting this way because I wasn't giving her/him enough attention, etc, etc. It's all confusing sometimes, especially when a few raging hormones get thrown into the mix. I don't know how mother's with super-large families do it. Honestly, I do not know. I admire them.
fascinatng post. I've observed the same big-family glow too and felt irritated, I'm afraid. I also love what you told your two eldest – wise words to even say to myself after lots of treats 🙂 And hoo-boy, August is going to be FULL of work. Have barely preserved anything yet.
I like your exclamation point! 🙂
Bother. So two isn't enough? I was afraid we'd have to have more…