I was a really overwhelmed mom for most of the beginning of my kids’ lives. A little background: my mom died before my son turned one and I had my daughter before the first anniversary of her death. My husband is in the military and I was alone for much of the first few years of their lives.
We also lived in the rainiest part of the country, leaving much of our activities confined to the indoors. My son has always been high energy. I’m talking, bounce off the walls, always pumped for life, down to wrestle at any given moment high-energy. Currently, at the age of 5, he can run an entire mile without stopping. Let me say that again, HE CAN RUN AN ENTIRE MILE WITHOUT STOPPING. And we think he would run even farther if we let him. There are some grown adults who can’t even run a mile. Our daughter is a force to be reckoned with. I always say she is a woman who knows what she’s about. Whatever she feels, she feels all the way. We can talk her into liking, trying, or doing exactly 0 things that she had decided against.
So, as you can imagine, as a new mom, deep in the valley of grief, with two…for lack of a better word…lunatics…It’s safe to say my life was pretty overwhelming. When people tried to talk to me it was usually over screaming and crying and chaos. Once a girl came to drop something off and when I apologized for the madness she said “Oh it’s ok! I have two dogs at home.” That’s right. She equated the running naked, screaming, covered in jelly children in front of her to. her. DOGS. Animals!
When we had to leave a park I literally had to peel my son’s hands away from the playground equipment and then wrestle him into the stroller. I cannot talk my daughter into anything she doesn’t want to do—since infancy this has been our biggest struggle to figure out as parents. She basically only ate scrambled eggs for 2 full years. She wouldn’t even try a new food if scrambled eggs were not also on the menu. Lasagna with a side of eggs…mashed potatoes with a side of eggs…you get the picture. And eventually I found myself continually apologizing for the lunacy.
“Sorry. He’s really high energy.” I would grimace as people walking by would stare at me wide-eyed while I physically tussled with my toddler to get him to leave the park.
“Sorry. She will just scream at me until she has an egg.” I would say to anyone watching me pull out a Tupperware of cold scrambled eggs to serve outside the children’s museum.
“Sorry he’s screaming.”
“Sorry she’s so stubborn.”
And something started to happen behind all those “Sorry” statements: I kind of stopped liking my children. I started to believe that them simply being children was something I could control and was failing at fixing. I starting thinking my kids were…bad…And then I became even more overwhelmed with motherhood. I started drowning. I was sad. I didn’t enjoy being a mom.
Then I read an article somewhere about not apologizing for things beyond my control, and instead, thanking the person that situation affected. For example, when you’re late, instead of saying “Sorry I’m late” you could say, “Thank you for waiting.” Reading that simple statement made something click for me.
I can’t control what my children like or dislike. I can’t control their personalities. I can’t control who they are. Certainly I have obligations as their mother. It’s my job to foster and build their kindness, gentleness, patience, and generosity. I should equip them with tools to control their actions when they have big feelings. I should instill values within their hearts and work to also live out those values in front of them myself. But who they are—that is not for me to bend, manipulate, or apologize out of them.
I started saying “Thank you for being gracious with us” when my kids had tantrums in front of people. I started saying “Thank you for your patience” when friends had to wait for me to pull my son from a jungle gym.
“Thank you for giving us space to work this out.”
“Thank you for understanding that toddlers have big feelings.”
“Thank you for letting me make my daughter a scrambled egg at your house so she doesn’t have to eat cold eggs (bleh).”
This small switch sparked a growth in me as a mother. Being thankful through the hard and “embarrassing” moments made me thankful to be their mom. Recognizing their individuality with thankfulness made me more patient, more gentle, and more forgiving. It made me see these parts of them I was once apologizing as their strengths.
My son never stops moving. That makes him always up for an adventure and flexible to change. Maybe he’s going to flourish in a high-tempo job one day because failure won’t be an option for him. My daughter knows what she wants and what she doesn’t. Maybe that means she will stand strong against peer pressure and one day maybe she’ll have no problem asking for the salary she deserves.
Don’t get me wrong here. If my kids do something unkind or willfully disobedient, we do plenty of talking about apologizing and making things right. We are also working hard to grow humble kids who will (we hope) own up to their mistakes. But I won’t be apologizing for who they are. I won’t be apologizing for their tenacity, their vigor, or their personalities. Instead I will choose to champion who they are and what they hold dear (even if it’s scrambled eggs). And I will choose to thank the ones around us who choose to walk beside us in the lunacy.