Hard kids are HARD.
My hard kid takes up my whole brain.
He stresses me out and causes me to always second-guess his words. There are days his attitude is so big it squeezes normal life right out of our day. Sometimes I can't even breathe because of his frightening lack of fear and willful stubbornness.
If I am not careful (and I wasn't for a time) I can really REALLY not like him.
But guys, for some crazy reason, God gave him to me. And I fiercely love this wild child of mine. And whether I like it or not, this is my GOD ORDAINED JOB right now. And more than I want peace in my head and home, I want to live a life that pleases God. Even when it's hard. Really hard.
When I was D.O.N.E. a few years ago (read: crying nightly, praying for God to break him before he broke me, and begging each morning for new strength) I finally went in to talk to one of our pastors. And at that first meeting two things shouted out at me:
1. When our pastor prayed for us, he THANKED GOD for this gift of my child (I remember specifically thinking "This is NOT a gift! He's a payback for all the sins I've committed! I love him, but I do not like him right now!")
2. After we talked (and I cried and listened for a long time) he left me with the most powerful piece of advice I'd ever gotten about parenting hard kids:
"Above everything else, preserve the relationship with your son.
No matter what he does, preserve the relationship."
Well, today, about 4 years later (and through many prayers, screw ups, laughter, and tears), I can share with a you a few tried and true tips to help you with your hard kid. I pray it does, because we Moms of Hard Kids need to stick together. God gave us an intense battle, and no war is won by a single person.
So here's our Battle Plan, fellow Moms of Hard Kids*:
Pray Hard. Pray often. Pray in the middle of their attitude. Pray out loud. Pray out loud in front of them. Pray silently. Write out your prayers for them. Pray, pray, pray. God answers prayers and changes hearts through them.
2. Be willing to shut up.
Shut up in the bad times. Shut up when you feel that ever pressing, suffocating need to lecture. Make your point as brief as possible. Lay down the law and don't defend it. In the heat of the moment when your hard kid is a rabid dog he's not listening, he's fighting. No amount of yelling, lecturing, or venting is going to change anything. It will NOT preserve the relationship, and you need the discipline to zip your lips and go silent. They will rage regardless of your words. And has there EVER been even ONE time when your kid has stopped his fit to acknowledge your brilliance or your point? No. Pray for the discipline to just keep quiet in the mess.
3. Remember to talk.
This point is opposite of #2. You can only really talk when you are both calm. That might be days and days from the heat of the battle. It's okay. Our kids are not dogs and do not need discipline right at the exact moment of the crime. When you are SURE you can broach the subject calmly, wait a bit more and then speak. But speak to LISTEN. Open the subject, ask a question (a GOOD question, not a Why? question) and then wait and listen.
4. Wait and Listen.
This is the hardest for me. Ask your good question and then wait. Wait, wait, wait. Let them have time to think through their answer. ("I don't know" is not an answer--have them try again as you wait again).
Listen with your eyes. With your ears. With your whole brain. Put all distractions down. Do not listen while you are cooking dinner or folding clothes, or any other thing. Listen 100%. Don't think of where they are wrong, or what you need to correct them on. Just listen.
5. Find laughter together.
Laughter, truly, has saved our relationship. I love to laugh. I love the crazy, ridiculous things that happen in life. My hard son and I both love comedy and an awesomely dry sense of humor. We have cried laughter tears over comedians we love, stupid youtube videos, and tv shows. Keep trying things till you find something. Laughter truly is healing.
6. Touch them.
Hug your hard kid. Sit next the them if hugging is hard, or share a pat on the back or a fist bump. Even if it's hard--especially if it's hard, force yourself to touch them at least once a day. A hug or passing pat on the back. Something. Anything. It will get easier, and touch does something in both of your hearts. It really does. I promise.
7. Make a commitment
Years ago I read a book called The Reading Promise about a dad who promised to read aloud to his daughter for 100 days... that turned into 1000 days that turned into a childhood/young adulthood of reading together. I thought it would be fun to try to do the same, and we started our own reading promise as soon as I finished the book.
It was fun, until the night that we had a fight right before read-aloud time. I absolutely, completely, without a doubt DID NOT want to read to them that night. I was MAD. Hurt. Disrespected. Wronged. But we made a promise, and I did it. I remember I read that first page very roughly. Then a second page and I could breathe again. Then a third page, and I was fighting back tears. I put the book down, and we had a good, really good, talk about all the ugly. It would have never happened without that reading commitment made months earlier. If you have never done a read-aloud with your kids, no matter their age, I recommend starting one TONIGHT, right before bed. Tell them some crazy blogger said it was awesome and you want to prove her wrong. (I have a list of excellent read-alouds we've done on my resources page.)
If you can't read together, do something together that takes some staying power. Maybe watch all the Lord of the Rings movies together. Or watch him battle through a new video game from start to finish (but he can't play it unless you are both together). Listen to every single song by her favorite artist together. Try every flavor of ice cream at the local store. Visit every park in your neighborhood. Train to run a crazy muddy 5k together. Whatever it is, plan, in writing, which nights you will commit to doing it and write it in. You WILL be tested. Bad things will happen right before you are supposed to do it, but follow through and fight for it. It is worth it.
When all is said and done, no matter how bad your hard kid messes up, no matter the choices she makes, or the bad things he does, the only thing that will bring them back in the end is the relationship they have with you. We have hope because we have Christ.
Be brave and save this relationship. Let God make something beautiful out of ugly.
*Moms of Hard Kids = MoHK. Get it? Like mock... what they do to us when we repeat ourselves for the millionth time because THEY DON'T GET IT. We're MoHK's! Unite!