Our day had been a doozy. We were on vacation and one of our kids had been difficult all day long, for more than one of our sacred beach days. My expectations were high for our much needed beach house stay. Unfortunately, our time in paradise had included grumbling, eye rolling, time outs, yucky exchanges of loud words, and lots of mother-daughter tears. Like any mature parent, I angrily charged her with vacation sabotage. Her punishment was steep for vacation week, an early bed time. I grumpily tucked her in, offered a half-hearted hug and an obligatory kiss, and turned out the light, weary and grateful for the end to another rough parenting day.
I plopped down defeated before the TV, ready for some day redeeming Netflix. My husband earned an annoyed glance when he chose a Ted Talk. And then educator Rita Pierson appeared recounting an exchange she’d had with a struggling student.
I gave a quiz, 20 questions. A student missed 18. I put a “+2” on his paper and a big smiley face.
He said, “Ms. Pierson, is this an F?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Then why’d you put a smiley face?”
I said, “Because you’re on a roll. You got two right. You didn’t miss them all.”
I said, “And when we review this, won’t you do better?”
He said, “Yes, ma’am, I can do better.”
You see, “-18” sucks all the life out of you. “+2” said, “I ain’t all bad.” (“Every Child Needs a Champion“, May 2013)
Convicted, this momma saw that I’d missed an opportunity to champion my girl when she’d needed it most. The desire to love without conditions led me down the hall back to her. Though she was drifting off to sleep, I snuggled up next to her, both of us still wounded and prideful, and whispered, “The day wasn’t all bad. You want to know your pluses?” She granted me a little, curious nod, and I told her I’d noticed when she’d shared treasured seashells with her brother who’d found only broken pieces and that I’d also loved watching her pure, brave bliss while she rode the crashing waves on her boogey board. Finally, the heart was freed, hers and mine.
Sometimes our kids’ days deserve lots of red Xs. Their in-process selves make mistakes and sloppy errors in judgment. They misunderstand, get stubborn, or are unable to make right choices at every turn. Sometimes our little, still growing up people can miss the mark all the live long day.
Sometimes this describes a bad day.
Sometimes a rough week.
Sometimes a challenging season.
Parenting is hard, and my reaction to misbehavior is often not ideal. I long, plan, and pray to be an intentional parent. I desire to react in love, with patience, in a manner that trains and builds up. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t.
My momma of four vest has some hard earned badges. I have survived Target aisle meltdowns and lived to tell about it. I’ve pulled my share of screaming toddlers off playground swings and have refereed bitter sibling squabbles over Legos. I understand that these moments pass and that laughter rights wrongs. I’ve learned to ask for forgiveness, be more lavish with grace than with consequences, and to hug when I’d rather spank. Experience has made me far more intentionally gentle than I once was. Again and again, I’m challenged to be FOR my kids, even when they struggle. Especially then.
Still, I am so very human. And when a child carries on and on and on, when they rage, when they do the thing AGAIN that we’ve talked about over and over, or when the hard behaviors of more than one child compound and compile, sometimes I throw off that seasoned mom vest and loss it.
Challenging behavior can become a vicious cycle. Misbehavior equals shame, which equals more misbehavior. Add in a stretched mom with expectations too high and a day can easily feel like a big fail.
The beauty is that my kids pass out grace easily. If I stop the messy cycle with an undeserved hug or an apology, they melt. And that night, back at the beach house in South Carolina, the +2 moment was a game changer for us, a new, easy and powerful way to champion my kids.
Now, home from vacation, hard days still come. Sometimes I forget “the pluses,” but my daughter often remembers. When she’s tired from the hard, from regret, she sometimes lets herself be vulnerable enough to ask, “What were my pluses, mommy?” She’s longing for that smiley face, so I count pluses, reminding us both that the day wasn’t all bad. It encourages us both that we can “do better tomorrow.”
So, fellow mommas, if it’s been one of those days, I encourage you to gift your child with their “pluses.” I know you are tired. I know you’d just like the kids to go to sleep so you can try again the next day. Some days though, consider climbing back up the stairs, kissing that little forehead, and reminding them that they “ain’t all bad.”