By Jennie Gollehon- A Living Water MOPS mom
My third, who is now almost a year and a half, had started as my best newborn, sleeping 4-6 hours at a time in the first days/weeks of her life. That gradually changed and by the time she was eight months old, some nights I was lucky to get two hours of consecutive sleep.
I’d like to blame it on sleep deprivation but whatever the excuse, somewhere in the last two years, my temper developed the shortest fuse imaginable. I snapped. I yelled. I screamed. I threw my own fits and temper tantrums; all at my kids. A glass of milk would spill at the table and they would jump, “Sorry, Mom, sorry.”
I still knew logic. I still knew reason. But it was as if both were just beyond my reach. I recognized that I was being irrational and over reactive but I couldn’t quite seem to grasp the magnitude of it enough to change. I knew how I was impacting my family.
I knew I was becoming the bully in my own family. But I struggled to find a way to change. I would look at little my baby and think, I need to quit yelling. I don’t want her to remember me like this. Maybe it was God trying to ignite change into me. Even with that thought in my mind, I still didn’t change.
I knew I was becoming the bully in my own family. But I struggled to find a way to change.
I yelled. I screamed. My go-to reaction was anger. My go-to reply was, “no”. I needed to realize that we were all going through a huge change. We had moved four states away and left everyone behind. We had another baby. My oldest sister once told me it took her a year to fully adjust to being a stay-at-home mom. Why did I think that moving and adding a new family member would be any different?
Then, early one morning in late October, my son came into our bedroom. He was five at the time. He had had a bad dream. He was polite about it, brought his blanket and Snugga and curled into me, sliding his cold feet in between my knees as he crawled in my bed. After snuggling with him for 10 minutes or so, I sent him back to his room in hopes for a few more minutes rest for the both of us, knowing neither of us would get them.
It wasn’t until bedtime that night that I asked about his dream. He didn’t want to tell me. It made him “sad.” Finally, deciding that his sense of privacy might be more important than my curiosity, I left it at that. Plus, my 10-month old was crying and only wanted Mom.
I was needed elsewhere and left his room to take care of her.Within minutes, he was out of his room saying now his dream was all he could think about. Upon returning to his room, 10-month old in tow, he told me his dream:
We were walking; My three children and I, across a street. I was carrying the baby. My daughter was wearing a bracelet, something that was special to her in this dream. It was colorful and pretty and made of circles, he said. She was being naughty (though later through tears, my son told me she wasn’t) and I was mad. I took the bracelet, broke it apart piece by piece, threw it to the ground and walked away. I proceeded up a hill to a building with my daughter following behind, heartbroken, sad, and crying. My son stopped to pick up the pieces of the bracelet, wanted to save them and return them to his sister. I told him, NO. We were to leave the pieces of the bracelet where they were, forever, and never have them again.
About the second sentence into his dream, he started crying; a silent cry, with big tears spilling out his tender eyes and flowing down his cheeks. I was crushed.
My son is on the sensitive side. I am sure he gets that from me. I am not sure where he gets his hoarding genes from, but he wants to keep everything, forever. Knowing this, I knew how tragic it was for him to emotionally experience via a dream, the thought of leaving something that is personally valuable, behind, forever and for good.
But beyond that. I had become the monster in his dream. I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In his dream he saw the me that he was seeing every day, the one I didn’t want to face. The me that screamed, and yelled, and got mad over inconsequential things. And in seeing that horrible me, he tried to become what I should have been, the parent who sought a way to mend destructive situations.
I had become the monster in his dream. I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The dream made him terribly sad. It broke my heart. I had to reassure him, and more so myself, that this would never happen. Because the truth of the matter was, it could. And in the deepest crevices of my heart, I knew it could happen and probably would happen had it not been for this dream.
I have no idea what my daughter did in that dream that made me so mad. In my mind, I envision she was having one of her moments where she wanted something a certain way and I was having one of mine and saying she couldn’t. It doesn’t matter.
There is nothing that she could do that would be so wrong and upsetting to justify taking her bracelet, intentionally breaking it in front of her young eyes, and throwing it on the ground like trash. Nothing.
Yet at that point in my life, that horrible side of me that I didn’t want to admit existed, did just that.
I had to change. And that is what I did. I heard God loud and clear, or more so, silently and deeply emotionally. I heard God in the tears and incredible sadness the dream caused my son. God had been whispering here and there, and I had ignored Him. I hate that I became a monster in my son’s nightmares. What’s worse, I hate I was a monster to him in real life.
I can’t tell you the recipe I used. I can’t tell you specifics of what changed. I listened. I cried. I prayed. I recounted successes to my husband at night. I bit my tongue and walked away when I needed to. I took lots of deep breaths. I didn’t expect change overnight.
I focused on teaching my daughter techniques to calm herself. I started questioning all the No’s I had been saying. I lowered my standards, in the best ways. I started getting up before the kids in order to grant myself time to start my day so by the time they got up; I wasn’t already behind the ball.
I listened. I cried. I prayed.
I held crying children and let them cry. I let myself be tired, I let myself fail, and I let myself succeed. I let myself parent each child differently. I gave warnings for bad behavior. I listened with my ears and my eyes. I began to recognize when punishment was necessary and when the best form of redirection was to stop everything – and make time stand still – so I could offer the lengthy hug that we both needed. I let us have bad days and move on from them.
I still have bad days. I’m human just like they are. There are times when I react harsher than I want to and I apologize for it. There are times when I look at our calendar, survey our moods and simply say No to a planned event and Yes to sitting on the couch and watching kid’s shows.
No, we’re not perfect. We are far from perfect; I am far from perfect. I can tell you I still yell at my kids and feel the heat of sudden anger over the littlest of things. But I consciously work at it. And I think that’s the best thing I did. I became consciously aware. And in doing so, God gave me back myself, but most importantly, he gave me back my children.
God gave me back myself, but most importantly, he gave me back my children.
The MOPS theme last year was a Beautiful Mess and that will always stick with me. This year the theme is Be You Bravely. My life is such a mess, yet it is so incredibly beautiful if I step back and see the beauty for all the mess. In that beautiful mess I can live bravely in the promises that God goes with me.