All my life I’ve been told that “character” is what you are when nobody’s watching, but I have come to the conclusion that character is what you are when everyone is watching. Or at least when your kids are watching. Or when they aren’t.
This comes from an introvert who can be generally fine and mostly “without sin” when she is alone, but introducing a toddler and a kindergartener into her world from the time she gets up to the time she goes to bed? Forgiveness is no longer theoretical. Kindness has to take action. It’s not as easy to distance yourself from anger. Objectivity is out of reach.
Living Christ with my kids around doesn’t happen through my writing. My strongest communication skill is useless with them. My next strongest – seeing – feels awfully useless too.
They don’t know how “there” I am when I sit on the couch trying to stay aware of them through the plexiglass depression keeping me there. They might never know. My love for them is so often not a “doing” love; when I do have to “do,” it is often accompanied by frustration because I am just. so. tired.
They ignore me because they think I am ignoring them. They push their boundaries because they know I can’t enforce them. Every day, they trash the house and I can’t clean up after them.
They scream and holler and throw fits when I tell them no, and when I have to walk out of the house to get some air and some quiet, they call after me so the entire neighborhood can hear, “Don’t leave, Mom!”
As if I would. As if I could…
Yesterday, the neighbor boys told Pip they were coming over to kill the cats. What I said didn’t matter – it was the end of her world. She hyperventilated. The fear won, and my love wasn’t enough to break through. When she started with the “I want my Daddy, I want my Daddy, I want my Daddy,” I quit.
I quit about once a day. Yesterday, a bad day, it was six times or so.
On the one hand, I know I am going through a deep grieving process that goes back to Pip’s first year when the post-partum depression stole her babyhood from me. On another, I know that I am grieving the mom I wanted to be. I am having a hard time right now accepting my life as it is, with its limitations, figuring out how to interact with my kids as people and not as my ultimate source of irritation.
But the days when they ARE the ultimate source of irritation scare me. It’s the days when I don’t want to be a mom anymore And I start praying. Because God and I both know that this isn’t who I am when I’m alone. We both know that being with people is harder for me. Ever since my second year of college when I wasn’t allowed to be alone – for health reasons – I have struggled in my interactions with others, either overcompensating for my insecurity, or shutting down and hiding me altogether.
Neither works with my kids, in the day-to-day living. I can’t MAKE them do anything. I want them to know that they are free to choose. But when they consistently choose actions that hurt themselves and others, when they choose again and again to disobey me and to write me off, I feel my own fear taking over. And then they get scared.
And I can’t turn that scared off for them. My love isn’t enough. My strength isn’t enough. What I am when I am by myself with God isn’t enough – but at least I am the same person with them that I am with Him.
That, I think, is what character is. It’s being the same person, wherever you are, and letting God be God over all of it, including the change He is working in you. His strength has to be enough for all of us right now. His love has to be the thing to take my fear and draw my kids into Himself. I’ve left some pretty big things in His hands over the years. I think this is another one that has to rest there.