Recently I conducted an experiment.
My kids, ages 3 and 4, have been difficult lately, with lots of tantrums, lots of screaming, and lots of whining and destruction. I classify myself as a “fixer,” so when something is broken, I want to make it work again. I want it to work even better than before. So I saw my kids’ behavior problems as a challenge — as a problem that I could take into my hands and mold into something new.
I decided we would have a “yes” day.
My thought was that if I gave them everything they wanted, they would be happy, the screaming would be lessened, and our lives would suddenly emulate the closing scenes of a Disney movie, complete with lots of hugs and smiles and Randy Newman singing in the background.
The experiment commenced.
We played all their favorite games and even made up new ones. We danced and sang songs and dressed up in costumes. We played with Play-Doh and colored, and I even let them have glitter because that’s how desperate I was. We went to the park.
They ate their favorite snacks. They wanted to help make dinner, so I let them. They wanted to make muffins, so we did.
I laughed at their jokes and affirmed every little thing they did.
I did all the things.
It was exhausting, but it should’ve paid off, right? We all should have had a totally awesome, amazing, kick-ass day.
But here’s the thing. Here’s what happened. Here’s what I learned from this whole ordeal.
They still whined and cried and screamed. They still felt like they were getting the short end of the stick. They still acted out and threw tantrums.
In a nutshell, they were still little kids.
It turns out that toddlers and preschoolers aren’t problems that can be fixed. In an effort to thwart their seemingly terrible behavior, I gave them all of me, but they were still all of them. They were little people who are trying to navigate the world. They are children who are learning what is right and what is wrong, how far they can push boundaries and my buttons. They’re experiencing cause and effect, like what happens when you hit your little brother with a wooden spoon because in your mind he got to add more chocolate chips to the batter than you did. They’re learning and growing and struggling to figure out what their place is in the family and what kind of person they want to grow up to be.
From this experiment, I learned that one day of saying “yes” won’t fix a problem. Not even two or three or five “yes” days would do it — and it’s because children are not problems to be fixed. They are people to be loved and taught and guided and nurtured. They need a teacher, a mentor, a listening ear, and a warm embrace; not a day where they’re given the moon.
I’m a fixer; I desperately wanted to fix my children, but I can’t. What I can do, though, is give them everything I have every day. What I can give them changes from day to day. Some days I have the patience to do a puzzle with them or listen to them tell me the same knock-knock joke 200 times in a row. Other days are harder because I’m human, just like them; I have mood swings, just like them. Some days are just plain better than others, but if I give them everything I have every day then I’m doing a good job. And if I’m doing a good job then I have to believe with every fiber of my being that they’re going to grow into really awesome people.
My hope is that moving forward, I spend more evenings feeling good about myself as a mother and fewer nights worrying that I’m screwing them up. My hope is also that you do the same.