A tiny sweet, grandmotherly type approaches me at the end of one of our religious meetings.
“Your daughter is so well behaved—you’re doing such a great job with her!”
I smile graciously, hoping my grin is masking my deep-seated confusion. My daughter?
My mind flashes to earlier in the day.
To the screaming tantrums over (apparently incorrect) lunch choices. To the swatting hits when I don’t give her the makeup brush she’s crying for. To the timeouts—oh, the timeouts!—for “not listening,” followed by wailing “I’m sowwyyyyyyyy!” echoing through our townhouse (though, hopefully not through our shared wall—sorry, neighbors!) while she’s confined to her crib.
The woman’s comments make me feel like a fraud. I’m doing such a great job with her? Me? Are you sure?
Because I second-guess every discipline decision.
And every timeout. Every time I acquiesce to a demand. Every time I make her say “please” (or don’t), I’m nearly convinced I’m doing it all wrong.
The pressure to keep your child from turning into a bad person can be almost paralyzing sometimes.
At those same religious meetings, I often find myself at the brink of tears, my screaming (though, ironically, tearless) child locking eyes in a battle of, “Well, what are you going to do about it, Mom?”
She tears papers, refuses to sit still, shrieks and cries when she doesn’t get her way. I don’t hear a word of the talks being given.
And then, minutes later, a kind friend offers to have her come sit with them for a few minutes, and the room goes suddenly, blissfully silent. It’s not until I realize that I’ve heard an entire talk given uninterrupted that it dawns on me: Um, where is my baby?
So I’ll crane my neck to my friend’s row only to see my previously monstrous baby sitting quietly, politely drawing in a notepad or playing contentedly with a lip balm container.
For the briefest of moments, frustration wells up in me. Why can’t she be like that with me?! What am I doing wrong?
And then I take a breath.
And I’ll notice the way my daughter respectfully listens to my friend’s instruction. The way she politely flips through a book. The way elderly couples around the room will smile proudly at her, then throw me a conspiratorial wink.
“You’re doing such a great job with her!”
And so I’ll brush off those tantrums. Those moments of monster baby. I’ll remember that maybe she shows me her worst sides, her own moments of weakness, because there is no place else she feels safer with than with her mama. She feels safe to push her own boundaries. To get frustrated. To act out. To try something different—even if occasionally that means being a worse version of herself.
And for every moment when she’s at her worst, she always makes it up to me with a thousand of her at her very, very best.
And then I’ll sit back, reveling a bit in this quiet that, in a way, I helped create. Because, you know what?