Monday, March 3, 2014

I Surrender

The plane was full, and we were in the very back row. I acquiesced to my husband’s request for an afternoon flight this time instead of the cheaper tickets that required a pre-dawn wakeup call, knowing that it could be touch and go with holiday delays. Indeed, both flights were delayed and we were flying through dinnertime.

We approached our seats, and my husband was in the window seat a row in front of us, my son and I in the middle and window just behind him. Confused, our son wanted to know why he couldn’t sit by Daddy. I explained to him that we were unable to get seats together, and he suddenly exploded like the old-fashioned snake-in-a-can gag gift.

“I WANT TO SIT BY DADDY,” he shouted, crying. He glowered at the woman in the aisle seat in our row. “I DON’T LIKE THAT LADY! I DON’T WANT TO SIT BY HER.” Thank heaven the woman was the mother of four grown children and she just smiled.

Flushed and feeling desperate, I pulled out every trick: Reasoning. Lecturing. Pleading. Bribing. Cajoling. Threatening to take away toys. Silence. Nothing worked. It’s one thing to practice patience and let him ride it out in the quiet of our own home, but on a plane full of strangers, it’s quite another challenge. Finally, I got him to laugh, and we were fine until he decided he didn’t want his seat belt on anymore, and we started over an hour later. I was left bewildered at the behavior of my usually-great mini traveler, who has been on more than three dozen flights with me already. This is just a phase, I chanted to myself.

Bedtime was a struggle the week before that while on vacation, and my logical, adult mind knows that he was having trouble because we were at my parents’ condo in Florida and because it was Christmas season, when everything is topsy-turvy.

On the second night of procrastinating and one-more-book-ing and I-need-another-glass-of-water-ing and I’m-not-going-to-listen-ing, my frustration built. I had things I wanted to accomplish and everything felt like it was taking an eternity. My focus was elsewhere. I lost my patience, used short and harsh tones with him, and felt like an ugly human being.

I am an adult. He is four. He is going through a period of big feelings and he is trying to harness them all. In theory, I should have mastered mine.

After he fell asleep, I went back to the room and cried into his soft little-boy hair as I fell asleep myself. I am hard on myself, knowing that I can be better. We were surprised, ourselves, as we sailed through the terrible twos and trying threes without a problem. No tantrums, no toddler throwing himself on the floor in public, no forcible removal of a child from a Target store. My husband and I jokingly gave each other high-fives on our excellent child-rearing and example-setting; we thanked our lucky stars that we were blessed with a child who has such a great temperament. We’ve got this.

Four was a sucker punch. Four is trying the edges of my patience. Four is pushing the envelope and trying out the limits of what he can get away with. Four is telling us “NO” and “I won’t do that!” and pouty lips and the occasional screaming. Four is “hold me” and “don’t hold me” and “I’ll kiss your boo-boo” and “don’t kiss me!”

I ask my mother for advice and she smiles and says, “This will pass.”

The truth is that I have been spoiled. My little boy is showing signs of imperfection; I worried about my skills as a parent. How does his behavior reflect our parenting? What if people think I am a flawed mother who spoils her child? Am I not preparing him well enough to handle his feelings? What am I doing wrong?

Even as I think that, I tie a little balloon to those thoughts and let them go into space. First of all, it’s not all about me. Second of all, he is human and he is a child and he is imperfect. And I am too. I remind myself that I can and will do better tomorrow.

I brought up my frustrations with my Listen to Your Mother colleagues Heather and Leigh Ann, and Heather said the word that has been sticking with me. Surrender.

He won’t be this age forever. Surrender.

Find a way to stay calm and roll with it. Surrender.

When he rages, hold him and let the moment wash over me. Surrender.

If he says something that hurts my feelings, know he doesn’t understand or mean it. Surrender.

I am imperfect and should give myself grace when I lose my patience.  Surrender.

Surrender to the imperfect. 

I don’t have to surrender my beliefs, or surrender to his whims. I am still the parent and I still must guide him. But I can guide him in a way that is gentle and loving and less frustrating for me if I surrender to the fact that I can’t control him all of the time. I will work to better surrender to the moment and let the waves wash over me. I have control of my emotions even when he does not. I can teach him that he is safe here in this haven of home. He, then, can surrender in relief when he feels comfortable. I can help him by ensuring that he is fed on time and in bed early enough so he has enough fuel and sleep.

So often, I talk about the beautiful moments I share with my son, and there are many. Sometimes, however, it’s messy and confusing and I’m stumbling toward the place where I think we need to go, together.

I always love him with all of my heart. I always appreciate what I have and am thankful for him every day. When he is sleeping, he still looks like a baby. There is so much more joy than anything else; the loud moments sometimes become a roar in my ears until they fill up the space and take up more room than they should be allotted.

Today, I did a better job. And I will try to give myself the space to be imperfect, as I give him the space to be imperfect too.

To the joys and the frustrations. To childhood.

I surrender. 



  1. When my son was four, he went through this same thing - a little more aggressive, hurtful words, and the yelling. He would tell me he didn't love me and that I wasn't the best mommy.
    That was ten years ago. Now he stands taller than me as he offers up the very best hugs (even in public) and he talks to me about most of the things. It's not always perfect harmony between him and I, but it is very, very good. I'm telling you this to offer hope and show the light at the end of the tunnel.
    I heard recently that boys have a surge in testosterone at the age of four. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but it makes a lot of sense based on my own experience and those of many of my friends who have had four year old boys.
    Hang in there, Kristin.

  2. In the last three days, I have had instances with each child that have tested my every mother-living level of patience, each completely different from each other. I am exhausted dealing with their individual needs and ways of acting out. Today I thought: Motherhood is exhausting and sometimes I feel like I am failing miserably. The love I have for my kids can physically bring me to my knees- it is that powerful. As they grow up, now 10.5, 8 and 5.5, the parenting moments have become even tougher. I am not sure how I will survive with the teen years. I know they aren't perfect and neither am I but please oh please, someone bless me with more grace for myself and patience for them. I SURRENDER.

  3. This is such a good reminder for me tonight, sitting here so completely out of control of what is going on at home. Sometimes you have to give in to the moment and accept it for what it is and know that it is passing. Nothing lasts forever.

  4. Yes, I remember four... And it does go by so fast. I love your "surrender" - a gift to yourself and your son both.

  5. So beautiful! I wish I had a glimmer of this wisdom when my kids were little. It's so easy for me to get wrapped around the axle and get my pride tied up in all of it.

  6. Of course I remember that conversation, but I really needed that reminder tonight. xo

  7. I will carry this with me into tomorrow. We are tired of winter and inside and (in moments) maybe a little bit of each other. Yet at the same time, we don't want to be anywhere else, so there is a lot of… chaos… I will try to surrender, to let it blanket me and not pull apart my patience.

  8. My boy is 4. Even with the challenges we already face, it is a trying time. With the language/ speech delays etc, it is beyond challenging. I don't give him enough grace some days, to be imperfect. And I let my guilt wash over me.

    Maybe it is time I surrender.

  9. I'm right where you are and needed to read this. Thank you.

  10. I love this. And it is so true. Every moments pass so quickly - remember to surrender is gentle and true.

  11. Beautifully written. And you're mastering many skills that will become useful again when he is 17 and gently separates himself from you, giving you gentle reminders that he is not your little boy and will soon be leaving your nest (can you guess which stage I'm at?). It sounds like you're doing a wonderful job.

  12. I love that you recognize it is not about you or really anything to do with your parenting. It's his job to test the world around him. That said, I am still surprised and taken aback when my teenager challenges me. I'm sure she tested me when she was younger, but for the most part she has always been easy going. I am always (ok, my husband always reminds me) trying to pick my battles and sometimes it is better if I just surrender. Even if she wants to wear Uggs with running pants.

  13. Preach on! Sister :) I have said, if you could only hear what goes on in my house you would be hard pressed to pick out which one of us is the 5 year old! He's a negotiator and has his own opinions and visions of how things should be - usually contrary to mine, especially at bedtime. He is embarrassingly spoiled, which he readily admits to. I am now trying to undo some of the bad habits we have fallen into before he sets off for kindergarten. But under all of that sass, I see a confident boy. One who is secure enough in his foundation that he can start to express & find himself. That, to me, is the jackpot. And I know that is what you are giving Torin.
    Their job is to push - our job is to stand firm. Sometimes we are distracted with things that aren't about those beautiful boys, and that is ok. It teaches them neither OUR world or THE world revolves around them. Could I yell less? Sure. Am I going to beat myself up about it? Probably. But I am also going to make every effort to create wonderful memories for him. Because I know, as fast as these first 5 years have gone, the next 14 will go even faster.
    So, I agree with Surrender. For yourself & your sanity. But don't ever think your son doesn't have the best mom in the world who loves him more than she could have imagined.

  14. I love this perspective. So true, Kristin. Having been through the younger years once with my oldest, it does make me realize that these phases with my youngest do not last. They were gone before I knew it before, and they will be once again. All we can do is surrender.

  15. Everything you say here is true. And I need to surrender more to those things too. It is especially hard for me to remember when I am in the throes of it though. I will try to chant to myself "surrender" next time I am there... xoxo

  16. Yes, in theory, we should have mastered our emotions...but it always seems that our pettiest emotions are also the ones that feel the biggest and cause the explosion. Most of the time I am pretty even tempered, but man. Sometimes the littlest things make it so hard to deal with a four-year-old! (We escaped the terrible twos unscathed as well. Four was a sucker punch.)

  17. Surrender is such a good motto. I must remember that. I know all too well that feeling of being spoiled. My son was so easy as a baby. So easy when he was two. (I don't mean easy in this sense there were no bumps, tears and yells, but that it could have been much worse) and then we had my daughter and she is so different. Opinionated and stubborn. Willfull. And I just wasn't prepared for anything less than perfection. My son is still very easy going and I feel bad often because I think his sister takes away all the spotlight by simply being louder.

  18. This: "I am an adult. He is four. He is going through a period of big feelings and he is trying to harness them all. In theory, I should have mastered mine."

    We have had a TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD week in this area. The truth is, we never fully master our feelings, because if we're doing it right, we're always growing and changing. I'm learning as I go with this parenting thing, and it hurts.

    Love the message of surrender. Love it.

  19. Really, really honest and wise. Surrendering is so hard - we always want to win, to be right, to lead as parents. But sometimes we just have to give in and provide a safe spot for our small people to squirm around in and lash out. Certain ages are challenges. The odd ages were tough for us in general. And then there was twelve.


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