Raising a Wild Child Without Losing Your Mind

 

wild nate 3 (2)Wild child. Stubborn. Headstrong. Independent. Strong-willed. Although, having been one of those myself, I suppose I’ve always preferred the term “steadfastly-minded”. You know the type of kid I’m talking about. If you’re not sure, here’s a checklist.

You might have a wild child if…

-You’ve considered purchasing a taser as a disciplinary tool. Okay, not really. (But maybe.)

-The medical personnel at the ER know you and your kid by name. er

– Your kid can unlock any child-proof device invented in under 3.7 seconds. Sometimes less.

-Your eye twitches sporadically for no apparent reason, although you suspect it’s trauma-related.

-You have, not once, but twice caught your child coloring the family dog with a sharpie.

-Your child has a talent for stripping naked at the most inopportune times.

-Nothing strikes fear in your heart more than silence.

-You see his footprints on the hood and top of your car. (Kudos to Lori Miller for this one.)

-Things break so often in your house, you no longer cringe or jump at the sound of crashing or cracking glass.

I feel your pain. Not only was I a wild child, but I am now raising one. I mistakenly thought I had this whole Mommy gig figured out until I had Nate. Boy, was I in for a shock. nate and tp

The truth is, kids with iron will and independent streaks often turn out to be amazing warriors for God, as long as they are bent in the right direction. They are the movers and shakers, leaders and freedom fighters. And when they know they are doing what God has called them to do, nothing and no one can sway them from following Him with wild abandon and steadfast devotion. But getting them to that place? Well, that’s the hard part. So much patience. So much determination. So much….everything.

After my latest battle with my little fireball, I fell into my bed, too tired to think. Reaching for my Bible, I flipped through the pages, begging God to either give me some encouragement or come back right away and spare me from my current misery. Do you know what verse He led me to? 2 Peter 1:3.

” His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Did you catch that? Peter says God has already given us what we need. So why don’t we always feel like it? Especially on the hard days? I think it’s usually because we’re fixated on how we feel, or how the world tells us things should be, rather than on God’s promises and rest.

This subtle but profound shift in my thinking has made a big difference in how I interact with my little guy. Here are a few things I’m learning along the way.

  1. Set aside time to recharge. Stay close to God. Start each morning with Bible study and prayer. Will everything go perfectly in your day? No. Will kids still scream and Cheerios still spill? Yes, but the way you handle things will change. Life goes on, but your perspective will shift. Staying close to God will transform you.

this day is yours prayer 

  1. Refuse to join them in their chaos. Little people have big emotions. When Nate was only a few months old, I remember one instance where he screamed so hard he passed out. When kids of any age are overcome with out-of-control emotions, the worst thing we can do is yell back. Such behavior only causes the situation to escalate to volatile levels. It’s our job to help them learn to identify their feelings, manage them and not be dictated by them…a hard task if we can’t do the same.
  1. Give them choices within defined boundaries.

My son loves his Donkey Kong shirt. He wants to wear it every single day. The problem with wearing the same shirt every day is eventually it begins to smell.

Three days ago we were choosing clothes to wear for the day. When I asked what he’d like to wear, he immediately shouted, “Donkey Kong!” I told him, “Sorry, bud, but Donkey Kong had to take a bath.” His brows lowered into a scowl, and I could see the tell-tale signs of an approaching storm front. He grit his teeth. “Donkey Kong.”

I could have pulled another shirt from the closet and said, “This is what you’re wearing today. Deal with it.” Instead, I pulled two other shirts out and let him choose. “Here are your choices today, buddy. Captain America or Star Wars?”

i've got the power

Suddenly, Donkey Kong was forgotten. Why? Because I’d given him a measure of power. He got to decide. He had control. It was minimal and within boundaries but still, control is what my little man craved.

Pick your battles carefully. Does it matter if your kiddo wants to wear mismatching socks or their shirt inside out? Think about the goals you have for your child. The long-term goal determines how you handle the day to day stuff. Focus on the big picture and let the quirky things go.

  1. Don’t be too proud to apologize when you’re wrong.

Every parents messes up at some point. Despite my best efforts, I’ve yelled when I’ve meant to keep calm. I’ve eaten Nutella from the jar when I’d determined to have an egg-white omelet. I’ve shown my kids what not to do…emotionally, physically and spiritually. So when I scrape bottom, the best way to teach them how to handle failure is to model the next step…humility and seeking forgiveness.

They are going to make the mistakes I do. They’re human. What better way for them to learn to seek forgiveness from others than to see it sought and lovingly offered within our own home? And kids are so quick to forgive. They are marvelously, beautifully filled with sticky grace.

  1. Remember God put you and your child together. mom and nateEvery time I’m tempted to wallow in insecurity or think that I’m ill-equipped to manage my little bundle of stubborn energy, I remind myself that God wanted me to be Nate’s mom. He wanted Nate to be my son. For whatever reason, no matter how I feel about my own failures, God chose us to learn from each other, to be bonded together and to love each other for a special purpose, for our good and His glory.

It seems the key to raising a wild child is this: relationship trumps everything else. Children who know they are loved, even when they mess up, seem to handle life, setbacks, their imperfections, and everything else, much better than those who don’t. Rules without relationship fail.

Love as you want to be loved. Forgive as you want to be forgiven. And keep your sense of humor handy. You’re going to need it.

What have you learned raising a wild child? What tips would you give to a struggling parent? What would you add to the list “You Know You Have a Wild Child If…”? I would love to hear!

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When Your Kid is…Different

Sometimes, Moms just know.

They know when all isn’t as it should be. When the other three year olds are able to count to ten but their child can’t articulate “one”, “two” or “three”. Moms know when it’s strange that their three old son can’t ask for a specific food when he’s hungry, but instead opens his mouth and yells, “Eat!”

She knows that something is wrong when her adorable little boy is three and she’s still not heard him say his own name. She knows.

I knew. nate-for-blog

Well meaning people told me not to worry about it. After all, my fun-loving bundle of energy had two big sisters who could speak for him. Why did he need to talk? He just hadn’t found the need to that often. Others told me to chill. He’s a boy. They don’t mature as quickly as girls. Girls are counting early, learning the alphabet, solving world peace and knitting blankets for their future husbands, while boys play in dirt and pick their noses. Nothing to worry about. Right?

I knew, but I didn’t say much. He’s healthy and extremely happy. A handsome boy with mischievous brown eyes, heart-melting dimples and chestnut curls. He makes friends easily and is always smiling. But still, there was something…

The speech delay could no longer be ignored and we had him tested just before Christmas of last year. The results came back for our little guy…severe cognitive delay paired with a severe speech delay. what-if

As I sat at the tiny elementary school table, my legs tucked up under the too-small chair, I listened to the therapists lay out all the options for my little guy. I was calm. I knew God had gone before us and I knew none of this had taken Him by surprise. The therapists told me from what they’d observed, they believed Nate could catch up over time. I listened and nodded and drove away from the school with a heart that was too jumbled for examination. Heavy, sad, overwhelmed, relieved in an odd way that my concern was validated, a thousand ‘what-ifs’ tumbling through my mind, another wash of sadness, and then—

“Hi!”

I looked in the rear view mirror and Nate was grinning that big toothy grin at me, his brown eyes sparkling, one chubby hand waving. “Hi, Monny.” He blew a big, wet sloppy kiss my direction and it happened. That tight bubble of gloom burst in my chest and was instantly replaced with laughter. Joy. Love.

Because in the end, that’s really all that matters.

Nothing has changed. Nate is exactly the same awesome bundle of energy and joy he’s always been, both before the diagnosis and after. The only thing that changed that day was my perspective.

Going through this journey with Nate has been incredibly rewarding. He works so hard to master new skills and concepts each week but here’s the thing…he’s not worried about trying to make anybody happy or do things the ‘right’ way. He just loves life, learning and people. nate-and-susan

And Nate has taught me how to celebrate the small things. After his very first speech session, his amazing speech therapist, Susan Jumper (pictured right), or “Miss Su-Su” as he calls her, led him out of the room with a big smile on her face.

“Nate, do you want to show Mommy what we learned today?”

He nodded and smiled.

Susan asked, “What’s your name?”

He moved his fingers down his arm and tapped his wrist as he said, “Nate!” Perfect enunciation. Perfect smile. Perfect joy.

Perfect tears on this Mommy’s part. Those small victories have turned into big victories for our little guy.

I’m incredibly thankful for his incredible therapists and teachers…people like Miss Diana (pictured below), his cognitive therapist, Miss Su-Su, and Miss Roxie, Miss Stephanie and others who pour endless love and patience into these little guys who have so much to give. And I’m so thankful for a Savior Who sees every need…even before we know we have one. He has provided help every step of the journey.

nate-and-diana

Any more, when people ask me how Nate is doing, I smile and say, “Just fine.” He’s thriving. God has seen to it. If you’re reading this and your child has just received an unexpected diagnosis, a test that wasn’t what you’d hoped for, or is struggling in some other way, take heart. Love fills the gaps where our strength crumbles. There will be days when you’ll have ugly cries in the shower so no one can see. Times when you’ll wonder, “Why?” But there will be victories too. Laughter, love, and joy that will be all the sweeter because of the journey you took to arrive at the place of celebration.

Your child is a great big bundle of love and potential. Tests can’t measure their worth. Focus on what matters. Focus on what will last.

“And the greatest of these is love.” ~1 Corinthians 13:13

I would love to hear from you. Are you the parent of a child going through a similar situation? Are you battling some scary emotions? What have you learned along the journey? Would you like me to pray for you and your family? Drop me a few lines!

The Heart Beat

The scream jerked me out of a dead sleep.

I groaned as my feet slapped against the cold floor. Not again.

I padded to Nathan’s room, grunting as my shin collided against the sharp edge of an unknown object in the dark house. More nightmares. The interruption of sleep was wearing thin.

I opened the door to my son’s room with a soft creak. My weariness melted away when he reached out his pudgy arms for me, sniffing and crying out in relief, “Mama.” nightmares

“Oh, baby. Did you have a bad dream?”

I scooped him up in my arms as he wiped his tears away with chubby fists. Kissing his forehead, I snuggled down with him in his bed and hummed a lullaby, alternating between wordless melodies and prayer. “Dear Jesus, please help Nate sleep without fear…”

He patted my face as we kept our vigil for a few minutes longer. His breath grew even and calm. I lifted up my head, thinking he was asleep. I was wrong. Nate sat up and frowned.

“No, Mama.”

I chuckled and laid back down beside him. But this time, instead of patting my face like he usually wants to do, Nate pressed my head to his chest. I heard every thrum of his little heart.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

Each time that beat grew slow and easy, I gently raised my head up only to find a chubby fist push my head back down again.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. heart beat

As I lay there listening to his heart beat, I thanked God for my stubborn, wild little boy. He’s exhausting, but a joy nonetheless. Then my thoughts drifted to another little boy and a mother who might have had nights similar to this one. Oh, I know there are few similarities between Jesus and Nate. Jesus is the Savior and well, my son needs the Savior. But relationships bond people together the world over in experiences so we can feel another’s pain, sense another’s sorrow, see life through another’s eyes. jesus as little boy

What was Jesus like at the age of three? Was he ever awakened with nightmares? It’s an odd thought, I know. The King of creation, afraid? Still, Jesus was just as much little boy as much as he was God. Did He call out for His mother to soothe His fears? Did she run and gather Him in her arms? I wonder if He ever pressed her head to His chest in an effort to draw her close.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

I am no hero. I can’t breathe life out of nothing or fight dragons or calm storms. Yet, I have a Father who can do all of those things. Indeed, He has done them already and will to do them again.

“I will fight for you; you need only be still.” Exodus 14:14

When the enemy hisses his lies in my ear, when giants loom over me causing my knees to buckle in fear, when I can’t breathe for the pain squeezing around my chest, I have a Father I can cry out to. Before I even finish His name, He is cradling me in His arms and pressing my head to His chest. god's heart beat

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

Always strong. Always steady. Always the same.

Maybe the little boy Jesus was never scared. If He called out for his mother in the night, perhaps it was so he could calm her fears. And isn’t that a mind bender?

The heart beat of God is a powerful thing. It reminds us of His presence. Of His protection. Of His love. The same heart beat that thrums with a steady cadence calling the weary to find rest is the same pulse He poured out and emptied at the cross.

I pray Nate’s nightmares cease for his sake, but I don’t mind being awakened by them so much anymore. Every time I hear his heart thumping, it reminds of my heavenly Father’s. A Father Who never slumbers or sleeps.

And that makes for some very sweet dreams.