Rushing through the door, out of breath and out of patience, I slipped quietly into my seat and tried to push down the feelings of frustration and guilt. The choir sang boisterously around me, but my heart wasn’t ready to sing. I tried to gain my composure, as it seemed I had entered this room in the same manner far too many times. Getting to church on time is hard enough, why does she have to be so difficult?…I thought to myself.
“Your daughter had a lot of snow days,” a friend commented. “How did that go? Was she ready to go back?”
“I was ready for her to go back! Sometimes she is just so….obnoxious.” I blurted out. Ahh…did I really just say that? In the moment I felt like a horrible mother. How could I use such a negative word to describe my daughter…with her caring and loving heart, generous spirit, and encouraging demeanor. But regret soon slipped away as I saw the expression on my friend’s face illuminate.
“Oh I know what you mean. I have called my mom in tears many times saying, ‘I just can’t even be his mom anymore. He is driving me crazy.’ I love him, I really do….but I just get so frustrated with him sometimes.” She went on to lament about her son’s need to always be right and to always have a solution to grown-up problems that he knows nothing about. And then I felt free to share about my daughter’s marathon ramblings…and her bad habit of staying right on my heels so I crash into her every time I turn around…and her baby voice that never goes away…and her talking right in my face. I began to ponder…How can I love my child even when she is being obnoxious? How can I stop feeling like I’m going to lose my mind? In my own soul searching I came up with a few solutions for myself.
1. Know when to punish and when to practice patience. Mia needs to learn life skills…as her parent it is my job to teach her. I don’t have to let her turn into the kid that no one wants to be around just because I feel bad or because I feel like I have to just tolerate her annoying behavior. If it is frustrating to me, it is probably frustrating to other people and it’s a good opportunity to teach Mia about respecting other people and putting others before herself. Just because she wants to hug doesn’t mean that someone else wants to. But I also need to know how to pick my battles…interrupting and a know-it-all attitude are rude and disrespectful while weird noises, silly voices and odd interests are just phases.
2. Get to the root of the behavior. I’ve come to learn that my daughter requires a lot more attention than my son. She needs more cuddles, she needs a listening ear that lingers a little longer…and in my impatience, I often fail to give her the time she really needs. There seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of time I spend with her and her frustrating behavior. But extra attention should never be given as an immediate response to the behavior but more as a preventative measure because a lot of times the actual behavior needs to be punished or ignored because it is an undesirable or ineffective way to seek more attention. Giving attention in the moment can actually perpetuate the behavior. So, I need to help Mia develop a proper response to needing more attention by giving her words and actions to express that. “Instead of talking right in my face when you would like me to listen, try gently touching my hand or waiting until I am ready to hear you.” And then stick with it. Don’t listen until she has sought attention in the proper way.
3. Use the biblical principle of put off, put on. My daughter can be a bit overwhelming at times. She loves to hug and she loves to talk but some more reserved children just cannot handle large doses of that. So instead of just saying, “Stop hugging your friend so much. It gets on her nerves.” I could say, “Instead of hugging your friend as soon as you see her, let’s try asking her a question about her week and wait for her to answer you all the way.” So then, I am not just trying to get rid of a negative action, I am replacing it with a good and thoughtful action.
4. Be a good example. Don’t be obnoxious in response to her obnoxious behavior…don’t yell or degrade her…don’t even sigh or huff in exasperation. Kids pick up so easily on these behaviors and it becomes and vicious cycle of “obnoxiousness”. Also it is helpful to model good communication skills when talking to other adults. Let Mia see me speaking politely to her teacher. Let her hear me answering the phone in a respectful way. And if I don’t want her to be a know-it-all or to interrupt then I should be cautious of my behavior in those areas as well.
5. Pray. I’m beginning to notice that her obnoxious behavior keeps Mia on my mind. It’s hard to stop thinking about her when I consistently remain somewhat frustrated with her. And what better to do with that time then to pray for her. But I’m learning not to just pray about her actions, but to mostly pray for her heart (and mine). A relationship with Jesus is so much more about heart than actions and I want my daughter to know that. I don’t want to focus so much on her behavior that I forget about her heart.
That night after church, we all piled back in the car to head home. It was late and we were all exhausted. In the dark quietness Mia piped up from the backseat, “Mommy, I wish I didn’t talk all the time. Then I wouldn’t get in trouble so much.”
And then I knew, she doesn’t want to act the way she does either, but she doesn’t know how to stop. It’s not her fault, it’s mine. “It’s not so bad that you like to talk. You are good at making people feel welcome because you always have something to say. I will help you from now on to learn when it’s okay to talk so that you don’t get in trouble so much.”