Last night when I walked upstairs to put Number 5, 6 and 7 into bed (they all share a room) around 8:15, I realized they hadn’t done what I’d asked them to do earlier that day.
All three of them had clothes lying around on the floor, and Number 7’s dresser in particular was a mess.
There was a mountain of clothing on top of it, and after listening to her go through a whole thing earlier that morning about not being able to find any pants, the last bit of patience I had left my body.
Number 7 is a really cool kid.
She’s tough and she’s independent and she’s proactive and she’s an amazing athlete and she is ballsy and funny and a huge helper and she is like the world’s best share-er.
Sharing is caring might be her senior yearbook quote.
She also loves a good snuggle and she’ll sit on your lap and she’s super affectionate.
With me anyway.
But one area she could use some improvement in is cleaning up after herself.
She usually puts up a fight when it comes to putting her clothes away.
And if it didn’t often result in a meltdown by her, I wouldn’t mind so much.
But when she doesn’t put her clothes away and consequently can’t find something she’s looking for, it affects all of us.
And that is annoying and frustrating.
So last night when I saw Mount Everest on her dresser and the rest of the room was in a little bit of disarray I was feeling a little exasperated.
I didn’t yell at anyone.
But I did tell Number 7 it was no wonder she couldn’t find anything with 60% of her clothing on top of her dresser.
And then I told the kids that the first thing they were going to do the next day when they got home from school was clean the shit (but I didn’t say shit) out of their room.
EVERYTHING would be in its proper place.
And there would be no meltdowns about not being able to find stuff.
And then I told them it was time to get into bed.
And then as we usually do, I asked Number 5 to turn off the light, and I climbed into bed with Number 6 and sang him his two songs (Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and Away In A Manger), gave him a kiss and a hug, and then made my way over to Number 7’s bed and climbed in with her to sing her two songs (My Favorite Things and Away In A Manger), and she had her covers pulled up over her face.
“You don’t like me,” she said to me.
“Of course I like you!” I told her.
“But you’re mad at me,” she said.
“I was angry that you didn’t put your clothes away when I asked you to, especially when you told me that you did,” I told her.
“And now you don’t love me,” she said.
“I love you no matter what,” I told her.
“You don’t love me as much as you did yesterday,” she stated, matter-of-factly.
“I love you just as much as I did yesterday,” I assured her.
“You don’t love me even just a little bit less than you did in the morning?” she asked, genuinely convinced the mountain of clothing on her dresser had sucked up some of my love for her.
“Just because I get mad sometimes doesn’t mean I don’t love you,” I told her. “I will never love you less. I will only love you more. No matter what,” I reassured her.
“Are you sure you don’t love me just like a little tiny bit, like a fraction less than you did yesterday?” she asked.
For a second I was mostly just impressed she used fraction correctly in a sentence.
“You love me even when I’m bad?” she asked.
“You are never bad,” I told her. “You just do things I don’t like sometimes. I don’t always love the things you do. But I ALWAYS love YOU,” I explained.
“Mommy?” Number 7 asked.
“Yes?” I answered.
“I love you so much,” she told me.
“And I love you so much,” I told her.
“No matter what.”
She gave me a big hug, and then I tucked her in to sleep.
And it was in that moment that I was reminded of how kids think and what they need.
I know kids can be manipulative. I know sometimes they’ll throw around a “YOU HATE ME!” simply to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Or their inactions.
But that wasn’t what this was.
Number 7 truly believed that I didn’t love her as much as I had earlier because I was frustrated/angry/irritated/unhappy.
And so I will do my best to remember this the next time the kids drop the ball.
Connection before correction.
Or at least connection after correction!
Your kids need to know the difference between “bad” behavior and being bad.
They need to know that they are NOT their behavior.
They are NOT their failure to do something.
And they are still loved.
NO MATTER WHAT.
You can still hold your kids accountable for their actions while being kind.
While reassuring them you love them.
Because as it was made totally clear to me last night, these lines are often blurred for them.
My kids — like me — are going to continue to mess up.
Over and over and over again.
I’m going to do my best to help them learn and grow from their mess ups.
But I’m also gonna make sure I let them know that no matter what happens, I’m always going to be their biggest cheerleader.
And while I may not love their behavior, I will always, always, always, always,