It had been a long day. It wasn’t especially bad, just long. It was a school holiday and I seem to have a soft spot for single mothers, so we took in one of Little Red’s classmates, whom we’ve watched now for a total of four days. She’s not a bad kid, but the boys find her competitive so the dynamic is much less friendly than normal. I can’t decide which bothers me more, her lack of understanding about honesty, or the constant I’m-the-victim whine.
The boys have a certain level of misbehaviour that they pull out when they’re with certain children (with a lower set of behavioural standards themselves.) She is certainly in that group. It takes a little while for the boys to detox and when such visits last for several days I usually have to do some re-wiring of my own children to get them back to normal. A solitary day usually just needs a debrief and a good night’s sleep.
As Little Red said his prayers last night he asked Heavenly Father to help him not be naughty tomorrow. And then as I tucked him into bed and asked him what story he wanted tonight (he makes up a different synopsis every night to which I fill in the blanks) he wanted the story of SpongeBob who was so naughty that his parents sent him away and didn’t want him anymore.
My heart crumbled immediately. He had only ten minutes earlier still be unrepentant of his behaviour, but he now wanted truly to be good. He was very sorry.
I drew out the bedtime story three times the length I normally do, and when it was over I reinforced the moral by telling him exactly how I felt. Spongebob’s parents (just as Little Red’s parents) did not send him away. Even if they were upset with something he had done, they always loved him and always wanted him in their family. The misunderstanding, in the story and –I hope– in real life, was quickly resolved. Everyone went to sleep happy.
And awoke happy. Today I have my sweet boy back. It was a powerful reminder to me of what a fine line we walk as parents, needing to teach them which behaviours are inappropriate, but always letting them know they are loved. As does our Heavenly Father for us, so we much parent our own.
For my part, I have a long way to go. But I think last night I did a good thing. It’s those little glimmers of “on the right track” parenting that keep me going on the days I’m sure I’m doing it all wrong.