Many of us have the sense that the children in our care chose us. We feel it especially when a child’s needs tap into our weaknesses, we are forced to adjust, and that adjustment makes us change for the better. It is as if their souls zeroed in on us and decided, “That woman and that man, those future brothers and sisters need lessons I can provide. I’ll help them grow. I’ll be their teacher.”
I was reminded of this theory in my parenting classes yesterday. Two moms in separate classes were dealing with different parenting challenges. Both of them were stretching to interact with their children in a way that did not come easily.
One of these moms, Jenny, admits that it is hard for her to project the authority that her son Dylan needs. She struggles to give him firm boundaries and speak to him with a definitive tone in her voice. It would be simpler, of course, if toddlers said to parents, “Please tell me “No!” or “Stop me!” or “Let me know you’re in charge!” Instead, they ask for limits by testing us or acting out, and then cry when limits are set. They need to know that even though they cry, parents will hold the line and not cave. A parent who is not inclined to be assertive, or worries about being too strict, has obstacles to overcome.
Dylan is Jenny’s lovable obstacle incarnate. He is a jolly boy with a mischievous sense of humor, kind to other children when he is not distracted by his voracious need to test. Jenny understands that being a loving mom means also being an authority figure, but because she is not the assertive type, putting that into action is intensely challenging. I know from experience that overcoming this hurdle will bring Jenny personal satisfaction and a boost in self-confidence. At the end of class Jenny and I reflected on the irony of this mother/ son match, and the positive changes Dylan is forcing her to make.
Rebecca is a smart, together mom who adores her 15 month old son Nicholas. Nicholas is having a difficult time adjusting to my class. Although he is amazingly focused and detail oriented when he plays — loves to spin large plastic beads and other objects as if they were tops — he cries every time he enters the classroom and then periodically throughout the 90 minutes. Rebecca was nervous when she first came to the class and now believes her son reacted to her tension. Nicholas is a sensitive boy, and even though Rebecca is working on relaxing in class, she still has trepidation, and he picks up on it. If mom’s nervous, there is something to worry about.
I talked to Rebecca about letting go of all expectations. Rather than prepping Nicholas for class, trying to make it work, I encouraged her to slow down, relax, and tell herself that if he cried in her arms throughout the entire class, it would be okay with her. Rebecca admitted with a smile that she is a ‘doer’ and a ‘fixer’, and ‘letting go’ did not come easily. And, once again, the subject of ‘being given the child we need’ was discussed.
I am more a Jenny than a Rebecca. I had to dig deep to provide the authority my first daughter needed. It was a struggle not to give in to her tears and her assertive, persuasive, commanding presence. And this is at 20 months old! At seventeen, she still has a way of making me feel I’ve let her down when she asks for the moon so convincingly and I only have stars. But I have never for one moment been ungrateful for her decision to be my baby. She is my pride and joy. She made me grow so much.
When my daughter was 3, my husband and I talked about having another child. “You want another baby? But that was so hard for you!” he said. After a pause I answered, “I know. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean you don’t want to do it again.”
Please share your stories!
Thank you Janet! I am all the way in cold western Massachusetts and though the weather these days is enough to make one cry (!), this post did the job! As the mom of a 14 and 11 year old – and very different they are – I believe 100% in what you are saying – which is why it touched me so deeply. There is no doubt that our children are here purposefully in our lives.I feel like they are holding up a mirror to me on so many days – and not because I see myself in them or that we are mirror images of each other but because of how we mix together, I am able to see so much of myself – who I am, the good and not so good, the strengths and weaknesses. I call one child my dream (the first) and the other my teacher (second) though they switch roles all the time and I understand we need our children in every shape and form to help us become better people – just as we are helping them do the same.
I love your BLOG and you clearly write from your heart and speak for all of us moms (and dads). I too was challenged by my kids when they were young. For me it was my second son who came into this world gasping for oxygen. He needed to see so many doctors, have so much therapy and his mommy 24-7 until the age of 10. But regardless, I always had tons of love to give him and his older brother and I would have loved to have a third child. Unfortunately, my marriage did not survive the stress so I did not have any more children.
Thank you for bringing light to my two blessings…who are now 13 and 16!
Thank you Beth and Lynn! These are wonderful stories. You are reminding me how patient, and how brave parents have to be.
I have certainly learned a great deal from my son Janet. From an early age he was special in so many ways. And also being ADHD he was also a challenge. And then of course he pushed my limits when he went to Iraq, later discovering the difficulties in managing his own household, and making career choices for himself. All along the way he challenged my senses, my intellect, my patience, tolerance and understanding. He has made me not only a better father, but a better person in so many ways. Today he is his own man and he continues to teach me, but on a whole new level, one where we can exchange ideas man to man. It has been a wonderful journey. It was never straight, but it was always an adventure. Scriptures tell us that angels walk among us, he has certainly been one of mine.
Very nice article, I’m always suprised and looking forward by and what you pick next.
Beth’s mirror images, Lynn’s blessings and Ed’s angel are lovely contributions to this site. Thanks, all of you!
Gods, years u are *wonderFUL! You inspire me. Thank you.
Finally have a moment to check in …
Life with boys has me constantly telling myself that this latest phase (whatever it is)is just another lesson…and they are healthy and with no particular diagnoses!
Either my two sons are fantastic teachers or i am a slow learner…but bit by bit…we get through it…very nice to read you, Janet!
I’m sure they are fantastic teachers! And I don’t think the lessons are ever over for any of us. I know I’m far from done. So good to hear from you, Cheryl!
I firmly believe that my boy was brought to me to teach me, his father and even my parents some very important lessons. I am only two years into parenting and I can not yet sum it up in one word or even a sentence, but it’s there, all right.
I know exactly what you mean. I feel my children teaching me, but it’s hard to put the lessons into words.
I loved this post, Janet. My baby girl London will be six months old on Valentine’s Day. She stays home with her daddy during the day while I work full-time. She had a fairly serious reflux problem as a newborn, and we’ve had and overcome several breastfeeding issues, but other than that, London is healthy, funny, beautiful and happy. However, I tend to be like Rebecca – anxious, nervous, a fixer, a doer. When any little thing goes wrong, I want to fix it, and I get tense. I am going to try to remember your advice to Rebecca to slow down, relax, that it’s going to be okay. Since I found your blog a few weeks ago, I’ve also been reading Magda’s book “Your Self-Confident Baby,” and it is helping me enormously as well. I’m learning to observe, and to let London solve her own problems when she can. And now I know that she is teaching me to relax! Thank you for making my life as a parent so much better already. I look forward to continuing to learn from you and Magda.
Wow! What a wonderful, inspiring comment! Thank you so much, Suzy and London, for making my weekend!
Aw, that makes me smile! 🙂
Ah… my son arrived to teach me to insist on what I need, instead of stepping back and waiting till someone hands it to me. Or not. I was able to be much more assertive about his needs that I was about my own. Still struggling with that one!
Well. My biggest fear when I knew I was pregnant was that I’d worry too much. I worry about everyone and everything and if my husband is late I already presume something bad would happen. I knew I would have to overcome that fear in order to stay sane. And then Leander was born with a heart defect that needed open-heart surgery. I honestly do believe that he chose me. And yes, I’m still struggling with that one, but I’m getting better.
Wow, Nadine, I can’t believe you had to go through that… I’m so glad everything turned out well for you and your wonderful Leander.
I’ve always been a wool gatherer, in that I internalize negative thoughts and analyze them and get so caught up in my own head with negativity that it can come out as depression or anxiety.. I suffered from post-partum depression after a rough birth experience and trouble breast feeding and was so worried that my depression would effect my son. But as my son grows and discovers wonders like birds singing and snow and the sound of rain, he teaches me to get outside my head and anxiety and to embrace the amazing world we have been blessed with. And I know exactly what you mean by wanting to do something again even though it was hard the first time. I know there’s another child who has chosen us waiting to be born….
My two girls are 2.5 yo and 9 mo. When the first one was born, she screamed and cried incessantly. It was as if she let all the tears out that I was not allowed to cry growing up. My Mom used to distract us immediately. Then, when my daughter became a toddler, she revealed to me what a wimp and pushover parent I was. She taught me to be more than assertive and self-confident. Along came daughter no. 2 who is all giggles and smiles. Whoa, what a blessing to me, as I tend to always be so serious and anxious! My baby is teaching me that it is OK to have fun!
Thanks, Janet for straightening out a lot of confusion about parenting in my mind!
I am not an overly sensitive person but my son is. It has been incredibly challenging to deal with but I am so glad this is the path we’re on. I need to be more compassionate and he is showing me how too.
I adore and share all of your posts! I’m curious what you think of Child Whisperer by Carol Tuttle. For me, it seems to fill in the “holes” via personal challenges I felt from the RIE parenting style. Between you and Tuttle, I feel my son and I have a cooperative harmonious relationship while I am for sure challenged every single day. I often say he is the perfect son for me as I am the perfect mother for him!
Thank you so much, Lynnze! (What a cool name!) I have heard of Carol Tuttle, but never checked her out. I will try to do that soon, since you’ve given her a high recommendation. I’m so happy that you are enjoying your relationship with your son!
As an infertile woman who suffered 7 years before eventually becoming pregnant, the “baby choosing parents” thing was always very hurtful to me. I wondered why a little soul didn’t want to be with me. It’s a different perspective that is worth considering. Especially for the women who never become mothers at all, for a variety of reasons (1 in 5 women in the UK). Most not by choice.
I have thought of that perspective as well, Marcia, and I am sorry if the train of thought that I share in this post is offensive to you.
I would also encourage your to reconsider this post. This is a lovely theory when dealing with fairly well-off, loving parents who may be struggling with an aspect of parenting. Unfortunately, there are millions of children suffering from abuse, neglect, war, starvation, etc., and taken broadly this theory becomes incredibly victim-blaming, as it implies abused children simply “chose wrong,” and it is their abuse is their fault. I very much respect your writing and have found much of it useful and thought-provoking, and I would encourage you to use the empathy you rightly advocate to look at this post from other perspectives and reconsider it.
I am very sorry to offend you. I’ll admit I’m a little perplexed. I am not making broad statements of fact. I offer the ideas in this post as a possibility, not a conclusion that I have drawn. That is why the title is a question. The real sharing in this post is about the learning curve of the two parents I worked with. My hope is that those examples might be helpful to parents (which is my only goal with this website and my podcasts, etc… to help.) I am open to considering another way of framing the examples and will certainly ponder that. I would also encourage readers to not perceive this post (or any of my posts or advice) in extreme terms. The ideas I share are nuanced.