Learning to find our way back

We’ve been going some through growing pains with my oldest son recently. He’s 5 1/2 and discovering his individuality which is just a nice way of saying he’s testing his limits and our patience along with them. He’s bold, sassy and moody. There have been more battles of will in our house in the past few weeks than I care to admit. I’ll be honest, every once in a while I blow a gasket. It’s not always pretty, and usually ends in tears (his and mine).

In theory I consider myself to be a firm, but reasonable parent. In practice, my husband is far better at setting limits than I am. We don’t spoil our children, far from it. But much like he’s challenging us by reaching for new independence, so too am I testing my parenting limits and exploring my comfort with different kinds of discipline. I’m constantly wondering which behaviour needs to be a “teachable moment,” which is completely unacceptable and which are best left alone? It’s so hard to know. But it’s even harder to translate frustration into positive discipline. Sometimes I just lose my cool. I’ve told him I get as frustrated as him, and sometimes my emotions get the better of me. I’m not sure he understands that yet though.

So you can imagine my contentment when we declared a truce Saturday afternoon. While his younger brother napped, the two of us worked on decorating our Christmas tree. In previous years this has been a bit of a chore, with him eager to put every ornament on the same branch and in a rush to unwrap every ornament with little care for their fragility and me taking deep breaths trying to remember exactly what the joy is.

This year, he was thoroughly engaged. As he unwrapped each one, he joyfully commented that this was his favourite and then thoughtfully place each on the tree. We worked companionably, talking about each ornament, whom it was from and why it was beautiful. Every ornament on my tree has a story, whether purchased on a family adventure near or far, or given as a gift from someone special. I loved sharing all of it with him, hoping that it would inspire him to feel connected to our holiday traditions in the same way that I always have, and to know that the tree has been adorned with love and happiness.

It was just what we both needed, to restore the peace and faith that no matter what we’ll find our way. The two of us just trying to figure out this mother-son, individual-parent relationship as we go. There may be bumpy roads along the way, but we’ll always be able to find our way back to this, this place of love and happy companionship because ultimately that is what it’s all about. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

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9 thoughts on “Learning to find our way back

  1. Lindsey says:

    Nicely done. I have the sense that your relationship with your oldest is a bit like mine with my older child – I am very familiar with the head-butting, the limit-testing, and the gasket-blowing. And with the tears. I know how supremely important those moments of connection and calm are. For you (and us) both! xox

  2. Glad you found a comfortable place with your son. My daughter is 5 1/2 and there are days when I attempt to tackle her tantrums with grace, but fail. I am hopeful that we learn to communicate more instead of resorting to tears.

  3. Cathy says:

    Learning to navigate the battles is the hardest thing for me. And it’s hardest with the oldest. There’s no perspective. There’s little practical understanding of age-appropriate behavior so the standards are often high – but always questioning where to draw the limits. These moments of connection will keep you close and I happy you’ve experienced it because each time you do, you’ll be able to handle the tougher moments better.

  4. At this point, I’m quite familiar with the Christmas-tree-decorating-as-a-chore phenomenon, as my little one just wants to run off with the glass ornaments, play with them and take them apart. I have visions of him breaking one by accident and getting cut, so I let myself be strict about them.
    And when he’s testing limits (as mine does also), try to remember that your job is to transmit your families’ values to him and also to empower him to correct or smooth over his mistakes. Your values can tell you exactly what behavior should be put down consistently and what can be tolerated when he’s having a tough time controlling himself. I love all the pictures you posted by the way. What a beautiful tree!

  5. Tracey says:

    Your tree is gorgeous! Can you come do mine? I envy the fact that you have so many meaningful ornaments; we’ve got a total mish mash of stuff. Need to start building some stories and tradition there. Oh and the struggles with children. You sound like me. Lately I’ve been finding myself thinking in my head “there has to be a better way to do this” while I’m yelling and generally losing my cool. It feels horrible. Here’s to the happy moments in between the yelling! 😉

  6. Our almost-five grandson has given us some incredibly bad days lately, too. (He and his sister are with us every weekday; thank goodness for preschool three afternoons a week.) I love your description of the quiet one-on-one bonding time with your son. His new level of maturity made him able to work with you, and the warm bond you both felt will definitely serve you well. Good to remember. (I often think part of the boundary-testing is an effort to separate from the younger sibling, who idolizes big brother and can’t leave him alone. Hard for both of them. And us.)

  7. Justine says:

    I could have written this word for word myself: “I’m constantly wondering which behaviour needs to be a “teachable moment,” which is completely unacceptable and which are best left alone? It’s so hard to know. But it’s even harder to translate frustration into positive discipline. Sometimes I just lose my cool. I’ve told him I get as frustrated as him, and sometimes my emotions get the better of me. ”

    I know exactly what you mean. I can’t tell when I should just let a 3yo be a 3yo and when it’s unacceptable behavior sometimes, and I think my inability to walk that fine line myself confuses my daughter too as she tries to test boundaries and they seem to change with the day.

    But, like you and your son, there are really good moments and we’ll just have to have faith that these are the days that will help shape our relationship with our kids in the future.

  8. pamela says:

    I learned so much from this. Much of my struggle too, revolves around:

    I’m constantly wondering which behaviour needs to be a “teachable moment,” which is completely unacceptable and which are best left alone?

    You described my angst so perfectly!! My son is so sensitive that I need to stay really calm in order for things to get better, but guess what? Sometimes I make things worse. I try not to but sometimes it happens. What my son’s teacher told me is that the children see us trying and that matters a lot to them. I am sure your son is well aware of how hard you are working. Family is like this crucible that holds us while we learn and grow. I just wish learning and growing were less messy and difficult.

    Love the tree!

  9. Penny says:

    I so get this, as a mother to three girls, one of whom is exactly 5 1/2 I read this nodding and saying yes yes yes like many of the others who have commented before me. My wise friend often says, when you most want to be away from your children..then this is the time when you have to turn and have one on one time with them as its what they need …. sounds like the tree was exactly what you both needed, well done for turning back towards your children, sometimes that is all we can do…..

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