Preschooler as she outstretches her arms: This much.
After a brief pause…
Preschooler: Actually, I love you more than that, but my arms aren’t long enough to show you.
I needed to hear these words. We all need reassurance from time to time, but lately my mommy ego has been suffering some slight bruises. Since the birth of our baby, our tenacious, high spirited, and strong-willed 4-year-old has started to inform me that I’m “the worst mommy in the world” when I, gasp, enforce bedtime, quiet time during the day, or tell her throwing toys in the house is unacceptable, or make her sit on the potty to “listen to her body.”
As far as the BMs go, we thought we’d overcome the “holding in poop” issues, but it seems any change means she’s back to her old habits (and adding another baby to the mix is a big change for a child, especially a high-need child).
Dear Madeline takes a capful of Miralax (an adult dosage) every day per our pediatrician’s recommendation. We were told she would not be able to physically hold her poop in any longer (this was almost two years ago), but when you have a truly tenacious child, I’ve learned anything is possible.
Last night it took 45 minutes of potty time before she succumbed and “listened to her body.” We were going on day four of no poop and also watching her do lots of ballet dancing (she walks on her tip-toes when she’s trying to hold it in). Our record is 15 days. It’s a battle of wills…constantly. But the whole “choose your battles” doesn’t apply in this category because I cannot allow her to hold her poop in for the sake of her physical health. So I cajole. Sometimes I fight. I always praise when she does go poop. Yet, it can be trying. It can test my limits.
Then again, should I even have limits? Madeline’s love doesn’t, after all.
Truth is, sometimes I get frustrated or even angry. Sometimes I raise my voice a little too loudly or squeeze her arm a bit too sharply. Sometimes I do snap after I’ve been up at night with a newborn. I am not proud of my behavior. There are nights when I fall to my knees and pray for God’s graces and ask him to please, please help me to correct and to encourage with a firm gentleness and not in anger.
When I do put a limit on my love and throw my own tantrum, I ask for forgiveness from God and then I apologize to Madeline. I remind her of my love for her. I wait for her response, and this same child, whom I have learned to recognize as “high-need” and “high spirited,” shows more empathy than most adults. She’ll wrap her arms – the ones that cannot physically express her love for me – and say, “It’s ‘otay,’ Mommy. You’re a wonderful mommy,” or, “I know you’re sleepy,” or, “It’s tough being only one mommy.” There have been times when she’s even offered to pray for me.
I’m so thankful for this tenacious, beautiful child and the wisdom beyond her years she seems to possess, and I’ll take poop conflicts any day if it means I can enjoy the company of this angel of a girl.
I realize, too, that she is right: Sometimes it is tough being one very human mommy to three very precious but oftentimes demanding black holes of need. Sometimes it’s tough to be the bad guy (AKA “the worst mommy in the world”) and to set boundaries or to enforce certain non-negotiable rules. Sometimes it’s even tough to show love when you’re children are exhibiting unlovable behavior (kicking or screaming or vocalizing a litany of why you stink), but a mother’s love cannot be contingent on how “easy” a child is or how “fun” mothering is at that particular moment.
I say I love my children every day, and I certainly do feel an intense love for them. But feelings aren’t enough. The way I feel about my kids is about me; however, the way I show my love, what I do, how I act toward my children, is what matters to them. This is a tough lesson – one that I’m learning and trying to embrace every day.
So I ask myself: How much do I love all of my children? There should never be arms long enough to quantify it. Like Madeline’s unconditional, wide-open love for me, there can be no limit to my love. Sometimes I am required to just keep on giving even when the temptation to run and hide, throw my own tantrum, or withhold my love is great. This is, perhaps, the very reason why the call to motherhood is so sublime. Being a mother is surely a way of growing in selfless love and holiness – if we only allow ourselves to be stretched like the arms of my preschooler.