Four years and three children into motherhood I have determined the following: Children are savages, The Lord of the Flies is, in fact, feasible, and my responsibility as a mother is to train the violent behavior out of these people so that I don't lose friends... I mean, so that my children can thrive in society.
Let me back up a little bit.
When my son was a toddler, I thought parallel play magically evolved into friendship. In my imagination, my son would experience friendship for the first time during a delightfully peaceful playdate. I imagined little boys pushing trucks next to each other, probably somewhere magical, like a green, grassy field. I envisioned a perfect friendship moment: my son vrooming his truck around, looking up, and happily discovering the little boy vrooming the truck right next to him. Both little boys would smile and then enjoy playing trucks together.
Actually, no. The opposite.
If you still think that children wake up one day and automatically decide to have friends and amicably coexist around toys it's because either a) your children are nicer than mine (totally possible) or b) you are not yet at the face grabbing stage. Parallel play is far too short lived in my opinion, and friendship is just not the first inclination of most children: GIMME-THAT-TRUCK is a much stronger impulse.
Generally speaking, I can rest in the fact that as my kids grow and learn, their tendencies towards particular negative behaviors will also evolve. Whatever skill or lesson or attitude we’re working on will ultimately improve with age, time, and self-control (plus one million time-outs). The desires my children feel to run, scream, yell, tantrum, and be awake in my bed all night will fade. They will learn from the (many) consequences, and someday the desire to jump while in the bathtub will be nothing more than a distant, dangerous memory.
But sharing? Sharing is a whole ‘nother beast. It – actually - might not get easier. The desire to grab faces and pull hair may not entirely fade.
Have you ever watched the news after Black Friday? The problem with all those mobs of adult people: sharing.
We adopted our son through the foster system, and for two years my husband and I shared him with his biological parents as they worked through their case plan in efforts to reunify with him. I had tons of complex feelings about my son's visits with his biological parents, but I also had one rather simple feeling: selfishness.
The first time a social worker came to my house to pick Mason up for a visit, he had been in my care for a couple of weeks. He already felt like my baby. I knew he wasn’t, but it felt like he was. I smiled nicely to this woman I’d never met and placed my screaming child in her arms. I said, “Have a good time!” But what I really meant was "If you actually take this baby from me, I will cut you."
Clearly, my knee-jerk reaction was not one of kindness, but I think the impulse that I felt in that moment is the same one that my children feel about their toys: "That is mine, and I love it. I want to keep it, and I don't want anyone else to have it." I wrestled hard with this response for the years leading up to my son’s adoption.
It’s difficult to sit with the urge to wrap our arms around the things we love and hide them away so only we can enjoy them. It’s also hard to see other people have items we want, items we know we would love. Children struggle with this when they see another child playing with something: a book, a block, it doesn’t matter. My children have had full on brawls over a leaf.
Even beyond my role as a mom and a foster parent, I’m constantly fighting against my own selfishness. It’s hard to act appropriately sometimes. I know I can’t just go up to some lady in the Target parking lot and rip the cute Nate Berkus pillows out of her cart (even if I want to, and I do, really, want to). I need to deal with those desires in my own heart, especially as I teach my children to do the same.
I have to admit that my selfishness flared once again after my middle daughter was born. I was ready to grab some faces almost from the moment she was placed in my arms. It was hard to even share her with my husband. But when I look back on those first foggy days in the hospital, the clearest and sweetest memory is one of my husband holding her.
I’d gotten up to take a shower, and, reluctantly, passed our newborn girl into his eager arms. When I emerged, refreshed and clean, I saw them cuddled together in a rocking chair: our tiny 6-pound baby girl, skin to skin on my husband’s chest. Her little body tucked into his shirt, her nose nestled into his neck.
When I talk with my children about sharing, about selfishness, about the deep, dark parts of our hearts that are often exposed violently, I don’t just say “it sucks and then you die.” I tell them that I struggle, too. I tell them that they may always feel their arms tighten just a little bit, and they might forever fight to keep their claws in check.
But I also tell them that there’s joy in sharing. If they resist the urge to grab and pull, they will experience the rich sweetness and joy that comes from allowing for someone else to love the thing you hold so dear.
Written by Anna Jordan. Photo by Rebecca Hansen.