During her son’s seven-year old well visit, Sue told me that her son, Corbin, was having some temper issues. I asked her to describe them. “Well,” she said, sometimes he just has meltdowns. For instance, if I tell him to do something as simple as picking up his toys, he screams!”
That sounds kind of normal, I thought. I waited for Sue to elaborate. “I mean, he really screams–at the top of his lungs for an hour. It’s exhausting.”
I was surprised at Sue’s calm demeanor. She wasn’t upset or even asking for advice. My curiosity prompted me to ask, “So what do you do when he has these episodes?”
“Well,” she said, “at first they really shook me. I wondered what in the world I was doing wrong that would cause him to do this. I never knew any child this old who did. Then I realized maybe it wasn’t something I was doing; maybe it was something deep that was bothering him. Maybe he gets emotionally overcharged and needs to erupt once in a while. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to his episodes.”
Well, that makes good sense, I thought, but it still didn’t seem clear to me, so I asked her for more details.
“When he erupts, I just think ‘The volcano is coming.’ I take him into the family room and sit him on my lap facing away from me. He used to scream for me to hold him when he first started. Then I cross my arms over his shoulders and hold him tight until they pass. Over the months they’ve gotten shorter. I just sit there and wait. That’s what he needs.”
Now, if you’ve ever been in the same room with a wailing seven-year-old boy, you might not appreciate the emotional fortitude required to sit and hold a screaming child, particularly when you’re the mom. Let me tell you, it pushes all of a mother’s buttons, hammers at her patience, and makes her wonder–even fleetingly–if she did the right thing in having this child. Mothers take everything their kids do personally, and when it involves emotional outbursts, we can’t help but believe on some deep unconscious level that we’re doing something terribly wrong in this love process. After all, we conclude, normal kids with good moms don’t do this kind of stuff. But I have some news–oh yes, they do.
Here’s where Sue got the giving of love to Corbin just right. She reduced her expectations about normal seven-year-old behavior and resolved early on that regardless of what other kids did, this was something her kid did. It wasn’t Corbin’s fault or Sue’s as a mother. She refused to take Corbin’s behavior personally. If she would have sat and stewed about what she was doing wrong, she would have gotten angrier with her son. She didn’t She separated herself out and viewed these tough episodes very matter-of-factly. In this manner, she didn’t set herself or Corbin up for failing. Then she was able to step back and think about what she needed to do in order to love Corbin through his temper tantrums. Expressing that love came down to sitting on her couch with her strong arms crossed over Corbin’s chest for some very long minutes.
Love is so much easier to give when we don’t let it get too messy. So often we overanalyze our kids’ behaviors and our own. We mothers make everything personal. We have expectations for every one of our kids behaviors, and when they fall short, rather than stepping back, as Sue did, we get angry with our kids or ourselves. Oftentimes the best thing to do is let go of those expectations. Sue really wanted a seven-year-old son who played Go Fish with a smile on his face. What she got was a sensitive little boy with volcanic eruptions. That was all right with her and life went on. This is when the loving part gets challenging but good.