What are some things that bother you about your kids? Things that get on your nerves, things that scare you, things that embarrass you? What is the first thing that comes to mind? I have to admit, for me it is often the petty things.
I just mopped (for the first time in a month) and they spill milk all over the floor. They unintentionally break the new toy the day after they receive it, or maybe even the same day if we’re talking about one of mine. They are a block away from home in their underwear, pushing a beach cart. They do not know how to talk at a normal volume.
These things are annoying, sometimes embarrassing, but they are not malicious. They are foolish and clumsy because they are children. I have to remind myself daily to be full of grace and patience with these types of issues.
Especially when dealing with kids from hard places (who often are about half of their age emotionally), but really with all of them.
Expecting a lot out of kids is fine in some areas: chores, respect for others, etc. But we not only need to model what we expect as their parents, we need to adjust our expectations according to their capacity, and manage those expectations accordingly.
If a child grew up in an orphanage or in foster homes where caregivers changed on the regular, you would not expect them to trust adults. ‘But they have been home for a year, have I not proven myself worthy of trust?’ Probably not. This is so hard to admit and difficult to understand, but when you look through this lens, it is easier to have more compassion.
Our son Charlie has been home with us for almost 2 years. He was in institutional care in China for over 5 years. It is getting better, but he still doesn’t fully trust us.
For the first 6 months home, he always wanted to hold my car keys. He wanted to use the clicker to lock and unlock the doors and when it was time to go, he would let me crank the car. He liked the sound it made, he liked to be in control, but after a few weeks it got kind of annoying.
“Charlie, Mommy needs the keys. I am afraid you will lose them. I am the adult, buddy. You are not in charge. Mommy is in charge.” I knew that he wanted (needed) me to be in charge, in control, he just didn’t trust that I would do a good job because he had a track record of being let down by adults.
It wasn’t until I realized that his motive for keeping my keys was so that I couldn’t leave him that I understood he would never lose those keys. And he never did. He wanted to hold them for a long time (half a year!), but eventually he just didn’t anymore.
He still argues with us all of the time. This is truly annoying and gets really old. But when I remember that he doesn’t fully trust us, it makes me realize that he is arguing with us to prove that we can’t be trusted. We are not right. If he can prove he is, he’ll prove we’re not trustworthy.
He rarely argues with his siblings and friends. He isn’t as worried that they will let him down, but he is still testing and trying to prove that we might. When I think about his past, this makes perfect sense.
Taking the time to do the detective work and figure out the reason behind the behavior really does pay off, and helps with not overreacting. It isn’t always easy, and I am not saying that I do not overreact—I do, often. With the keys, it took me about 3 months to put the pieces together.
Now I try to keep my “compassion glasses” on and remember that there are often legitimate issues rooted in the behaviors and actions. Fear, insecurity, shame are frequent motives. Sometimes there are sensory issues going on.
But often, they are just being kids. Kids are silly and foolish, which can be messy and loud. We can look at these things as annoyances or as part of having kids, or even as fun. The perspective is up to us. In my opinion, we all need to lighten up. But even lightening up takes work!
Next time you are feeling annoyed, remind yourself how much you wanted kids in the first place and how long you waited to hold them in your arms. Then take a deep breath and put your compassion glasses back on.