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Of Painting and Progress

October 13, 2019

When #LegendaryE was about 15 months old, I had some painting I needed to do. I collected up the supplies that I would need- paint brush, roller, stir stick, and sandpaper. I realized that the plastic drop cloth I needed had been put under the kitchen sink. #LegendaryE wanted to help, so I let him carry the roll. The last thing I needed was the gallon of paint. #LegendaryE followed me around, carrying the roll of plastic as my “helper,” as I looked in each of the bedroom closets, the closet in the kitchen, and under the window seat. I finally realized it must have been on the screened porch with my other tools. I left him in the kitchen while I stepped out to find the can of paint. 

 

When I came back inside, #LegendaryE had already gone upstairs, where the project was. I brought the paint and supplies up, wondering what he did with the roll of plastic (he hadn’t been able to climb the stairs while carrying something yet). I asked him what he did with the plastic, to which he jabbered and pointed into our bedroom. I looked in our bedroom, to no avail. A thorough search downstairs yielded no signs of the plastic. A search of the upstairs ended with the same results. 

 

At this point, I started feeling frustrated, regretting that I had allowed him to “help” me carry things! I tried taking him to every room and coaxing him to show me where he put it- no luck. In a last ditch effort, I thought to look under the kitchen sink, in the unlikely event he put it back under there. Sure enough, there was the roll! 

 

I turned around to see him smiling ear to ear, obviously very pleased with himself and expecting me to feel the same way- he did, after all, put it away instead of throwing it on the floor. I took the cue and praised him for being the helper and putting it away.

 

I made a whole lot of wrong assumptions, and even felt frustrated with #LegendaryE because he couldn’t communicate with me and tell me what he had done with with the roll of plastic. 

 

But here’s the thing: #LegendaryE didn’t know how to talk yet. Sure, he said a few words, like momma, dadda, milk, more, all done, and his favorite, UUUUH-OOOOH! But he didn’t yet possess the skills necessary to make sentences. 

 

Here are some truths that I was reminded of. Maybe they’ll be helpful for you to hear them, too. 

  1. I was feeling frustrated because I was expecting too much. If we’re to be completely honest, we probably have expectations for our kids from hard places that are unreasonable. Just because our child is a certain age chronologically does not mean that they are emotionally the same age. In fact, for a child that who has experienced early childhood trauma, their emotional maturity may be the equivalent of half their chronological age. #LegendaryE wasn’t yet capable of behaving as I was expecting, despite my feelings of frustration. Are we expecting something from our kids that they’re just not able to deliver on? Perhaps we need to adjust our expectations for our child instead of consistently being frustrated with them for failing to meet our (unreasonable) expectation. 

  2. I didn’t expect enough from him. The last place I checked was the exact location of the missing object. I expected him to have left it in some random location or thrown it somewhere. If I had stopped to consider how he thinks, I would have checked under the sink right away. Why? Because what I know about my boy is that he likes to be daddy’s helper, and he likes to put things away. Sometimes we expect too little from our children from hard places. If you’re like me, you can get stuck in the rut of expecting the worst. When we’re constantly expecting the worst, we end up missing all of the times our child brings us their best.

  3. I made incorrect assumptions about his intentions. #LegendaryE was blissfully ignorant of how counter-productive he was being to my agenda. Of course he was! He didn’t know the first thing about the process of painting. What he did know is that he loves his daddy and wants to please him. His intention was never to make my life more difficult or the process even longer. He just wanted me to be happy with his contribution. In that moment, I chose to celebrate his intent. Maybe it’s just me, but I can have the tendency to miss the heart of my child when I focus on their actions. When I miss the true intentions or motivation for my child’s behavior, it typically ends with me feeling upset/angry/frustrated/exasperated. For children from hard places, there is almost always an unmet need (either perceived or real) that the child is trying to have met through the behavior. Seeing the need beneath the behavior allows me to better connect with my child, and see/hear his true intention. 

  4. I lost sight of the progress. #LegendaryE had a host of trauma factors both before his birth, as well at his birth. He was born 6 weeks premature and spent 6 weeks in the neonatal intensive care- machines beeping, lights on and off constantly, monitors reattached and readjusted repeatedly, a different nurse giving care with each shift change. Despite his challenging start, he has met all of his milestones on track or ahead of what’s “typical.” Our sweet boy had come a long way since that little tiny baby I held in the NICU. What a remarkable blessing that he was walking, learning to talk, and had the ability and desire to “help” his daddy! Sometimes we need to pause to celebrate the progress- not compared to another child, but how far they have come from where they’ve been. 

 

#LegendaryE is now three and a half. He still enjoys “helping” me work on projects...and sometimes I don’t even need to include quotation marks around the word now! I wish I could say that I have learned my lesson about seeing the need beneath the behavior, but I still miss the mark and jump to conclusions too often. But just like my child, I need to remember to measure  my progress as a parent based on how far I have come, not how far I think I should be by now. I am more attuned to my children's needs than I was ten, five, or even one year ago. That's something to celebrate.

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