Everyone at my house has been feeling like this tree lately - hanging down, mopey, like a heavy blanket of something has been weighing us down.
When I feel that way, it's so much easier to snap at my kids, to be short with Hubby, to stomp around the house and exhale loudly over all the Lego pieces I step on with my bare feet and all the clothes that fall just a tad short of the laundry basket.
And Hubby, having come home to another take- out meal and screaming children, is crabby and yells at everyone to "get to bed!" And then brothers snap at each other to "leave me alone!" and "quit following me!" Two will gang up on one. Everyone interrupts everyone else and then shouts, "stop interrupting me!" and dinner is a disaster. People want to play alone, be alone, and everyone hides in their own corner of the house.
Attitudes are contagious...especially bad ones. For the past couple weeks, our house has been infected with a case of 'attitudus suckus.' It's a nasty one, too. It just won't let go.
Before I was a mom, I used to assume kids were brats because their parents were jerks, because they were screwing up the parenting job. When I became a mom, I realized that children come with their own unique little personalities; while some are easy going and mellow, others are high strung and stubborn. Some can roll with any situation, and others freak out at the littlest change in routine. Try as we might to control them, some children are going to do whatever they feel like doing at any given moment. On the other hand, there are some who bend to our every suggestion just like little puppets.
I have had four very unique little personalities living in my home. Joey was extremely busy and loved to be the center of attention. If he was not the focus of the attention, he was going to take the attention any way he could get it - even if it meant screaming in the middle of a crowded Cheesecake Factory (remind me to tell you that story sometime!) or repeating Grandma's name over and over for an entire hour-long car ride. At the same time, he could be easily talked into obeying and was always willing to help with any task.
Slim exists in a world of his own creation and stays there about 98% of the day. He is in no big hurry to do anything, and everything interests him. The smallest rustle of a leaf or the slightest change of the wind can distract him. He avoids conflict like the plague - the kid would literally give you the shirt off his back just to keep you happy. He can talk your ear off, or he can keep to himself for hours.
Knox is incredibly moody - his attitude can change on a dime. He can go from adorably mature and sweet, kind and funny to angry, surly, and pouty in the same minute. He wants to believe that everything does, and rightly should, revolve around him. He can be incredibly attentive to his brothers and parents, or he can be annoyed as hell by us all.
Lil' C is the boldest four-year-old I have ever met. He may be small, but he is mighty and wants everyone to know it. He is loud, in your face, and not backing down. I have seen him stand up to boys twice his age and size who simply walk away scratching their heads. And don't you dare tell him he's cute. He's cool! Yet, he will cup my face and tell me how much he loves me, the best mommy in the world, and give all sorts of voices to each of his stuffed animals and blankets.
We have yet to discover the depths of Baby E's personality. But by all indications he is going to be a cuddler, a fun-lover, and quite stubborn. He may actually be a screamer, too.
The more I learn about my kids' personalities, the more I believe their bratty behavior probably is my fault. Not because I am a jerk, but because my parenting is flawed. How I choose to react to their unique personality quirks directly affects their behavior. I am quick to lose my temper and yell at Slim about his loafing and let Knox's temper tantrums put me in a bad mod. It may think I need to raise my voice louder than Lil C's, or stomp around the house yelling about all the messes. It's just easier.
But children are our mirrors; they reflect everything we do and say. Like the way I growl out Slim's name when I am frustrated with him. The way I slam things when I am angry. The inappropriate things I swore I would never say in front of my children. I am mortified and ashamed when these behaviors are reflected back at me.
We all have both light and dark inside of us. The dark emerges freely, but the light takes effort to form. It takes patience and love and nurturing. It's a much more difficult choice to make.
But it's just as easily reflected as the dark.
Like when his brothers listen to and encourage one of Slim's far-fetched stories. Or when the boys divide jobs when cleaning up toys. Or when they speak sweetly to the baby or compliment and encourage each other. I hear my words of love and encouragement in their voices, too. It's hard work, but we can nurture the positive traits of our children's personalities and handle the difficult traits a little more delicately.
Last night, I made Hubby beef stew. Not something I like, but he had expressed a desire for it. Knowing the boys wouldn't eat it, I got them each a special meal on my way home. The light and love that emerged around that dinner table was beautiful. I had made each member of my family feel loved and special, and they reflected that by talking softly, speaking nicely and listening to each other's stories. There was even a chorus of, "You're the best mommy in the world." And even one, "You're so pretty, Mommy." (Gotta love that!)
Coming off a long day of one errand and appointment after another, I could have arrived home crabby and snapped at everyone. But instead, I chose to do something nice. My light reflected off them and came right back at me. For the rest of the evening, positive attitudes were contagious. People played together and were happy. We were all living in the light, and feeling the love. It's a good place to be.