Yesterday, Peter hit me. He had asked for a third helping of his favorite orange chicken. I told him he had to eat some veggies before he could get more, and he delivered a frustrated quick slap on my hands. I said louder, “No hitting Mom! Meal over!” He tried to deliver a bigger slap, but I caught his hands and said, “No hitting. No chicken, but you may have some veggies.” Peter actually really likes the veggies, so he sat down and ate them, and then got up, realizing the meal really was over.
I guess on one level you might call that a success, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. Emotionally, these episodes send me on a tailspin. Cognitively, I might understand that it takes too much effort for Peter to talk to verbalize when he’s upset, so he hits. But instead I just feel attacked. “He doesn’t love me.” “He doesn’t appreciate me.” Those are the immediate feelings I feel. My immediate reaction is defensive. “Then I guess he doesn’t deserve all this self sacrifice. I need to step back and protect myself. I should invest my love and energy where it will make a difference. If this is what I get, it’s not working. It’s not worth it.” So on and so on goes the negative spiral of thoughts, as I talk myself into thinking both Peter and I are failures, and all our work together hopeless.
Usually, at that point, my critical superego intervenes, and says, “Cut it out! Why do you have to go to defending your rights first and foremost, before helping your child? Stop feeling sorry for yourself!”
But that doesn’t help. You can’t flog a dead horse. When your heart is hurting, words of self recrimination might make you stagger to your feet and carry on a little bit, but they won’t give you the grace you need to finish the race.
And so I just pray. “Lord, help me. Holy Spirit, it’s you or nothing. I haven’t got anything left. I’m bankrupt. I don’t want to love him anymore.”
The Spirit always answers. Very softly, and sometimes it takes a few days, especially when my heart is more rebellious, or I don’t try to be still and listen. Today, I can just tell you I know I can’t help but love Peter. I’ll always love Peter. Peter’s got my heart. That’s a gift from God, and I couldn’t change that even if I wanted to. Which of course, I don’t.
So I feel very blessed today. Because He reassured me that my love for Peter doesn’t depend on me. It doesn’t even come from me. It’s not my gift. It’s God’s gift, thank God, because He’s a lot more dependable than me.
So now that I’ve calmed down, I can think through this “behavioral management” program more objectively. I guess it would have been more helpful for me to give him the words he should say instead, like “I want chicken first!” What fires together, wires together. But I can’t think that fast, and I didn’t catch his hands fast enough. When he already delivered the hit, I couldn’t just reward the hitting. I suppose next time, I could say “No hitting! Say ‘Sorry’.” Then if he said “Sorry,” (which he probably would as Peter is not oppositional by nature), I could try to teach thus, “Ok. Next time, say, ‘I want chicken first, please!’” If he said this, I would reward with a small piece of chicken, and wait for him to eat it, and ask for more. Then I’d be ready with a small portion of veggies, and a small last reward of chicken to show him, and say, “Veggies first, then chicken.”
It’s never too late. I’m sure there’ll be a next time to practice this. The difference after today, will be that perhaps I can say, “Thank you God, for this next time. For another opportunity to train my child in your loving ways.”