By Barbara Russell
Thirty years ago, I gave birth to my first child, a boy. Again, two years later, “It’s a boy!” my husband announced. I must admit there was a twinge of disappointment because I already had a boy, so I thought having a girl would be nice. But as the midwife tossed that slimy little bundle on my tummy, I couldn’t have been more pleased! He was just perfect!
Boys are boys, I imagined. Well it didn’t take very long to discover that this boy was nothing like his brother. How can two brothers be so different? While my oldest slept the night through at 2 months old, this one was well over a year old before he did that consistently! He was go, go, go until he became so exhausted he would fall asleep in the middle of eating or talking. He would have me totally exhausted by 9:00 in the morning!
While his brother could sit and play, building “things” for hours, this one couldn’t stay focused on anything for longer than 30 seconds! He could destroy a clean room in 5 minutes! He would play with 10 different toys at the same time, none of them with their designed purpose. He didn’t have to read to go on an adventure, but had plenty of adventures dreamed up in his mind!
One afternoon, I found his older brother on the top bunk, so I asked what he was doing. He replied, “I’m hiding these from Michael.” Yes, even he knew his brother was a handful! Oh, and did I tell you my third child was born just before the second turned 17 months old? Thankfully, she had more of her oldest brother’s temperament, but she adored her seemingly twin brother, and he adored her. She was his live toy. I told her more than once, “You are going to have to be tough or die!”
For him, love was touch and attention. “Mommy watch me; mommy did you see that?” If I didn’t cuddle him for at least 5 minutes after he awoke, he was an emotional mess! Obviously, as he got older, he didn’t need to cuddle any more, but he always hugs me, to this day!
I couldn’t leave him alone for 15 seconds, and that is not an exaggeration! I would find him emptying out a diaper bag or grabbing a toy or blanket from a child, and then running, giggling along the way. One evening, while at a cousin’s birthday party, we heard a scream from the next room. Startled, we moms bolted into the room to discover Michael with a pair of scissors ready to cut off a girl’s 20 inch braid! In his imaginary cowboy mind, he was picturing her braid to be the perfect rope.
I felt like a terrible mother who didn’t know how to control her child. I thought, “Lord this isn’t funny! What is wrong with this kid? Why isn’t he normal?!” I’m not sure who gets to decide what “normal” is, but I suppose it gets its definition from what most children are like.
Finally, while at a yearly medical checkup, a doctor diagnosed Michael with what they labeled ADHD- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. At that time it was said to be the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder in children. Some say it is caused by a lack of discipline, or a chaotic family life, or even too much TV, while others believe it is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and should be treated with medication.
Regardless of the various opinions on the validity of ADHD or how it should be treated, my husband and I chose not to treat our son with medication. We knew we couldn’t make excuses for him and allow him to be wild or unruly, but at the same time, we didn’t want to subdue his imagination and creativity. Our goal wasn’t to suppress his energy, but to teach him how to channel it.
Just because his brother was content to sit still reading books and playing with Legos, did not mean that these were his interests. My husband and I had to accept the fact that he was never going to be like most children, so we had to learn how to help him channel his never-ending energy into something profitable.
One way we tried to help him to control his energy was to have him sit on the couch with his hands in his lap for one minute. If he talked, or touched anything, I would add one more minute. Sometimes he ended up sitting for 30 minutes. Eventually he got better, until I no longer had to do this.
Another way was by giving him piano lessons. At first, he had to be told to practice, but it wasn’t long before practicing piano became his outlet. When he was stressed or just needed to burn off some energy, we would often find him at the piano playing fast and furiously!
We also came to realize that he was never going to be really good at just one thing. When he was 4 years old, he informed me, “I want to do everything there is to do, and see everything there is to see.” He wasn’t afraid to try something new and fail. Eccl. 9:10 says, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might…” and that is exactly what he did!
Focus was a word I used often. His mind was so easily distracted. Most of the time he was not intentionally naughty; he just simply needed to be reminded to “stay on track.” I would tell him to do something and then ask him, “What are you going to choose? To obey, or to do it your way?”
I learned that creativity and ambition are not the same as being naughty. He had quite the imagination, and we let him dream. We knew that most of his dreams would never develop, but we allowed him to talk and imagine anyway. When he became an adult, he thanked me for believing in him and listening to him, even when he knew I wasn’t interested in what he was saying.
Yes, he was a challenging and exhausting child to train, but I wouldn’t trade him for all the other children in the world. It was through rearing him that I learned to accept people for who they are, and not try to force them into someone I wanted them to be.
I believe one of the most destructive things parents can do to a child is to compare him or her to an older sibling- or to any other child for that matter. Your children need to know by your actions that you love and accept them unconditionally. Learn to be patient with each child, and don’t get frustrated while training each one.
Every child is unique. They all have strengths and weaknesses. As moms, we need to learn to accept each of our children for who they are. Help them to identify their strengths, and then teach them how to use those strengths to be a blessing to others. Likewise, help them learn to identify their weaknesses. Encourage them to not be insecure because of them, but to be teachable, and willing to allow others to help strengthen those weaknesses.
Sometimes, our adult children make choices that we don’t agree with and quite frankly, break our heart! At those times, we pray more fervently and love them more, even if our love is not reciprocated. Just like the Lord hates our sin, but loves us unconditionally, we also should never treat our children hatefully, or make them feel like we have disowned them. “I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made:” Psalm 139:14a
By Malissa Custer
Family camp always provokes in-depth conversation about our family. Every evening, we put the kids to bed and recap the day of preaching. I enjoy asking Aaron what he thought of each message, and then having a conversation from there. It is a great time to take a break from all the other things that demand our attention, and focus in and recharge our parenting batteries. Usually by the end of the week we’ve come up with some different things that need sharpening in our house and agree to work at adjusting those things. At some point in these evening conversations I usually ask him, with an “I promise not to penalize you for what you say” clause, if he thinks there is anything that I really need to change as a mom. I’m not going to lie, I have a bit of anxiety or dread when he is smiling at me and thinking about it. Often times the question has led to some tears, and maybe a time or two it has led to an argument (oops). Sometimes it is a nice, non-aggressive conversation full of back-and-forth honesty without reaction or emotions. Think about it: your husband has the best view of you as a mom. He knows you at your best- and at your worst – which means he can offer a perspective you should pay attention to. Don’t forget that he loves you.
So, here is my challenge to you: Ask the question. Whether you are a brand new mom, or your children are grown and gone – after all you never quit being a mom. If your mind or heart rejects that idea there is a problem.
Listen to what he is saying. Avoid getting defensive, if you can. The result of this question has only produced good in my heart and our home.
Sometimes it brings to the surface marital problems that need our attention.
Don’t forget your husband should be your best friend.
Proverbs 13:10 – Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised [is] wisdom.
Proverbs 27:17 – Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: Two [are] better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him [that is] alone when he falleth; for [he hath] not another to help him up.
Proverbs 19:20- Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.
Ephesians 5:22-33 – Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
Remember fellow moms: we’ve only got one shot at it, let’s do our best.