Lessons on Mothering

Something about spending 24/7 and no breaks with a two-year-old limits my patience. I often find myself unnecessarily hard on a toddler that may not know better. Although I justify that she does know better, because I have seen her behave better.

The impatience heightened today when I directed Brylee to clean up her mess before she moved on to playing princess. Some days, more encouragement or direction is required than others. Today, she wasn't cooperating. I told her exactly what I expected. I warned her of the punishment for not doing as she was told. I reminded her what she was supposed to be doing. I bribed her with getting to play princess when she was done. I followed through on a time out. I followed up with a spanking.

All the while she meandered around the living room, sometimes wandering to her room, kicking toys in between, picking a toy up and tossing it aside, putting her head to the ground as she stretched her hand out to reach for a toy a couple feet away and overall not doing what was told. At this point there was just no self-control or rationality left in me and I shouted at her to pick up her toys. She burst into tears and I went to my room shedding frustrated tears of my own.

There's something about becoming a mother that helps to explain, justify and reveal my own mother's behaviors that otherwise confused me. I vividly remember a time when my sister and I were told to clean our room. After clearing the floor and feeling we had adequately accomplished this task, we summoned mom's inspection who did not approve. She threw toys, clothes and bags to the center of our room, sternly stating in an above-normal volume that is not where those things belonged. (I remember it so clearly, because this reaction was and is very uncharacteristic of my mom.)

Today, I recalled this familiar memory through a mother's eyes. My sister and I goofed off in between "cleaning," our things being shoved under the bed, stuffed into the closet and thrown from the middle of the room, not exactly following through on what mom requested. (We were old enough to know better.) I feel my mother's frustration as I imagine the kind of busy and stressful day she had managing the house and work and coming home to deal with two giggly and uncooperative little girls.

I sat on the edge of my adult bed and cried heartfelt prayers for God's help, preparing to try once more at being a mother. Brylee's cries became clearer as she slowly wandered her way from living room to hall. I scooped her up in my arms, her head rested on my shoulder while she sobbed. Moments passed until she calmed and I asked what she needed. She quit crying, wiped the tears that she couldn't blink back, and very calmly said between sniffles, "I need food." Her calm, honest response stung me as I realized my harsh reaction to apparent disobedience that was in fact a toddler's way of communicating a simple need.

The frustrations, failures and inadequacies that accompany mothering can be exhausting. But today, they brought me closer to my daughter and my own mother and their perspectives: the exhausted mom pushed beyond emotional limits, and the unheard toddler with simple needs. And just like that, I'm more understanding and appreciative of both.