It’s amazing how such a small thing can have such a big impact.
By most accounts, it was a very normal Monday night. Like many stay-at-home moms, Mondays mean being tired from housework, cooking dinner, and waiting for my husband to get home from a long day at work. But this Monday night was different. Because on this night, I was struck with a bolt of insight – like lightning from above – that would forever change the relationship I had with my kids. This time, a small thing – a split second glance from my teary-eyed four year old – shocked me, and shed light on all that once was dark.
My boys are 15 months apart. “Yikes” is a common reaction from friends and strangers. Motherhood is so rewarding, and it fills my heart with joy every day to watch my boys play, and learn, and grow. But it’s also very challenging. These past three months, in particular, I’ve had to work overtime as a referee between what seem less like brothers, and more like sparring partners.
After Monday night’s dinner, my eldest son, Flash, was upset because he wanted me to give him a bath, not his dad. As I followed him from room to room hearing him whine and protest, I rolled my eyes and thought, “I’m tired, stressed from the fighting, and I don’t want to deal with you right now.” And then Flash turned to me with a look of sorrow in his eyes, and my heart softened. In that moment, something changed. I saw myself as him. I saw myself standing in his place. But I wasn’t a four year old looking at my mother. I was 32 and looking at my husband. Bolts of electricity coursed through my brain as I made a connection that I’d never made before. I realized that what my boys needed from me wasn’t much different than what I needed from my husband.
As a wife I need to feel loved by my husband. I need affection, empathy, and compassion in my marriage. All men and women have differences in their marital needs and desires – and my husband and I are no exception. But no matter the circumstances, there are two things that both of us always want and need: to be heard and to be understood. Being able to fulfill those needs however, isn’t always easy. We’re human. We’re imperfect. As responsibilities pile up, stress builds, and emotions take over we allow ourselves to become self-absorbed and temporarily divert our attention from our partner.
And that is exactly what I was doing to my son. I was so busy being frustrated with my own life that I never stopped to think about hearing my son’s needs. I made no effort to really understand his feelings. A million thoughts came flickering in my mind. While I was unintentionally neglecting him, did he just want some attention from me? Is this something my husband and I do often? Is he internalizing this behavior and feeling abandoned? It was this little thing, this look in his eye – this bolt of lightning – that made me finally understand that my child’s needs were my own.
It can be difficult to empathize with our children when their discontent seems insignificant. “My toothpaste is peppermint and not strawberry! I want the pickup truck, not the bulldozer! My Elsa costume is yellow, not blue!” It can be unraveling to hear the screeches, whines, and cries that accompany such trivial complaints. But now instead of jumping to frustration, I stop and think about the times I needed my husband to hear and understand me, and I remember that’s all my kids want too. So whether or not I agree with my child’s feelings is irrelevant. His feelings are real, and that’s all that matters.
So on that Monday night, after Flash gave me that look, instead of ignoring him, I saw myself as him. I thought about how I would want my husband to react to me if I were upset. So I dropped to one knee, pulled Flash towards me, and hugged him. His anger melted away, and I could see the appreciation glowing in his eyes. He was shocked that I said nothing – and then he smiled, turned around, and followed his dad to the bathroom.