Today, as I was getting 7 children ready to go to Haven's 9 month check-up, I realized that I had no qualms or misgivings about taking all of them with me. What once used to make me so anxious has now become routine. There was a time, when I had one or two children, that the smallest errands stressed me out. Now, loading 7 kids in the car to go to a doctor's appointment doesn't phase me. I began to reflect on how this happened. Here is what I have learned: Not to be afraid of my children. Okay, maybe that doesn't quite make sense. Allow me to elaborate. I think many parents, myself included at one point, are afraid of their children--afraid to say no, afraid of a tantrum, a melt-down, afraid to disappoint. We may be afraid that our children will not like us. Parents who are afraid of their children acquiesce frequently saying such things as "Okay, you can have 5 more minutes. But then we are really going to leave." Or: "Okay, but just one more!" As if we are really in control.
I remember once when I took Anna and Jonas to a homeschooling store with me. After I spent time looking at homeschooling materials for quite awhile, Anna and Jonas both asked for some things. I didn't want to buy them these things, we didn't need them, but I gave in. Why? Because I felt guilty that they had to wait while I looked, because I didn't want to disappoint them, I didn't want them to get upset. I came home feeling angry, frustrated and defeated. Why couldn't I say no? I was afraid of my children.
I found this to be complicated with my adopted children. I knew that I had to establish control, but I also wanted to form a bond and I wanted them to like me. I had a hard time saying no and confronting certain behaviors. But, I did it and my adopted children do like me. They feel safe. Because of this, attachment is fostered and our relationship is growing.
I used to feel uncertainty when I heard people say that children like rules. They like to know what the boundaries are. They feel safe when parents enforce these rules. They test to make sure the boundaries are up. I do think this is true, but I believe that this doesn't reveal the whole picture. I don't think it is the rules that make children feel "safe", but the parent's confidence in those rules, the parents certainty about what the rules are. A child trusts a confident parent. A child believes in a parent who is a pillar of strength and doesn't waver, who doesn't change the rules, making frequent "exceptions" because of love. If I break the rules to let my children have one more cookie, one more minute to play, one more chance after I have already said no, my children will become anxious because they can't trust what I say even though they are getting what they want.
When I tell Jerome "No" to something and then he tests me to see if I mean it, and I enforce my "no" he learns to trust me. He may be angry at me at first. I may have to deal with a tantrum, but I am no longer afraid to go there because I know that trust happens after the feelings dissipate. He may not like my decision, but he will like me because he can believe what I say to be true. He knows that when I say I love him I mean it. When I say that I am proud of him, I am not stretching the truth. When I say he is staying with us forever, I am not going to change my mind. He relaxes within the safe confines of my spoken words. However, if I am forever changing the boundaries, he will become anxious because he won't know where the fence is. It isn't the fence that makes him feel safe, it is ME, the person who erected the fence, that makes him feel safe!
So, I have learned to not be afraid of that meltdown, that tantrum, that display of disapproval at my decision. When I say it is time to go, it is time to go. If I say no more, I mean no more. That means don't even ask. Asking me to bend my rule is disobedience. Go ahead and throw a fit. You won't change my rule because you don't scare me! I am the parent and I am in charge!
I am not afraid to take 7 children to the grocery store, the doctor's office, the dentist, garage saling. They know what is expected of them and they know that the rules won't change. They also know that I am not afraid of their tantrums. They can trust me--that I won't waver or back down. Because of this trust, they feel safe and are relaxed. It is enjoyable to be with them, to take them out. Well . . . most of the time ;) Do not believe for a minute that my children are perfect and I have this down pat. They do test the limits and I do waver at times . . .
Now am I a cold-hearted momma who never lets my children have any fun? No way. My children get treated all of the time. But, it is on my terms. I am not coerced into it. This principle in my parenting, has helped me more than anything else. We, the parents, are in control, not our children! It isn't mean to say no. It is loving and your children will love you for saying no!
In Christ, Laura