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The other side of perfect

I get asked a lot how I manage with four kids. I have a number of friends with more kids than I have, but I have many, many friends with fewer kids or no kids. And it is pretty common to hear "I don't know how you do it!" Recently a friend joked about the "magic mom juice" I must be drinking—I'd love to get my hands on something like that. 

I share a lot of happy pictures of us online for my friends and family to see and for me to have a record of to look back upon, because those are the moments I like to remember. There is also the thought that someday my kids will be online, and I don't know that they'd like to see the bad moments that they've (hopefully) grown out of by then.

But we have bad moments. We have bad days. If I wanted to be negative, I could even say we've had bad weeks and bad months. Stretches of time where I couldn't get one kid to stop biting a sibling. Stretches of time where I couldn't get another kid to stop hitting and kicking friends and classmates. Stretches of time where I couldn't get a kid to stop throwing tantrums. But even during those stretches where I felt like a huge lie, like the biggest parental failure, there were so many wonderful moments. Good times on which I prefer to focus.

But right now, I'm not going to. I'm in the throes of feeling like a failure, and I need to write it out.

I was washing dishes. A child came in to ask me for another show. I said no. We fought for a while with my child promising it would be the last show and me reiterating that it already was the last show. This child got angry. Very angry. The child left the kitchen, and I heard messy sounds. Another one of my children came running into the kitchen to tell me the aforementioned child was making a mess. I continued to wash dishes. Finally I came into the playroom, which the last time I had seen had every single toy put away in its place. This was what I saw this time.

You can't really see the scale of the mess, 
but notice the empty shelves—they're normally packed with toys.

I said, "I guess you want to spend a lot of time cleaning up today." Child announced, "And I'm not even going to clean it. You. Are." And the child looked me straight in the eyes.

I got out trash bags in the kitchen and said, "I can help you clean up the mess, or I can get rid of everything." 

Child responded: "throw it all away." With that response, I went back into the playroom and started putting everything in the bags. Child came in and started playing with some toys. I said, "You can't play with those; you told me to throw it all away." Child said, "I'm going to play with them, and then I'll help you decide what we'll keep and what we'll get rid of." I said, "I'm sorry, but it doesn't work that way. You can't make a huge mess and then just play. We can clean it up together and then you can play, but you cannot play before cleaning." 

We went back and forth for a while, child insisting the child could play now and clean later and me arguing that the child had to clean now and play later. The child begging me to make a deal and me refusing to agree to the child's deal thinking that my offer to help clean was already generous enough.

And through it all, in the back of my head, I was running an internal debate—doubting myself. What am I doing? Am I trying to break the child's will? Do I just need to be right? Does it really matter whether the child plays now or later as long as the child puts the toys away eventually? Why am I fighting with the child? For what am I fighting? Do I just want a subservient child? I want an obedient child who is also an independent thinker—is that even possible??

Despite my doubts, I continued to press my position. The child started walking away with some toys. I detained the child and pried the toys out of the child's hand. I picked up the child, trying to calm the child down. I was rocking the child back and forth, but it didn't work; the child became more and more mad.

The child was hurting me and hitting me and kicking me. My anger levels were rising, and I was desperate to control my beast. I carried the child up the stairs to the child's bedroom. I told the child that the child's options were to color or play dress up or play with stuffed animals or lie down or look at a book—anything to calm down in the bedroom.

I closed the door and heard the sound of items being thrown things across the room. I was so angry. I was so, so angry at this point. I wanted to spank and hit and throw. Basically, I wanted to have the tantrum I was trying to teach my child not to have. 

I went in and grabbed the child by the arms and said "I am trying so hard to not hurt you, but it seems like you're trying to get me to hurt you, but all I'm ever going to do is love you even though I really want to hit you right now." My child was screaming and thrashing in my arms. I carried my child to the bed and told this child that a new mess upstairs is unacceptable but I would unlock the iPhone if the child would like to listen to a story. For some reason that worked. 

The child is now lying on the bed quietly listening to a story, and I'm downstairs trying to figure out how the heck to raise this child to be strong and stubborn but not obstinate and rude. I'm trying to feel the Spirit but I don't know if I'm just screwing up my kids, and I wanted to be doing anything else but this this morning—I didn't want to be failing at raising my child. And I just feel defeated. I feel like my child won the battle because I have no idea what to do next.

Should I stick to my guns that the child has to clean it up?? Or should I follow through with my threat and put it in bags while the child is upstairs? I'm paralyzed in a mountain of toys.

So I do neither. I vacuum the crumbs that I've discovered in my couches now that the child had so thoughtfully removed all of the cushions. With the crumbs gone and the cushions returned to their rightful places, I sit down at a computer to write about my feelings.

And here I am.

Navigating this life as a mother, wanting more than anything to raise children who are confident, strong, hard working members of society. And wondering if all I am doing is screwing them up.

These are some of the bad times amidst my great times.

For while you see me posting pictures like these . . . 

. . . know that I am dealing with things like this and other moments of screaming and hitting and fighting that don't get shared.

I think I've calmed my inner anger beast enough to decide what I'm going to do. I have no idea if it is the right decision. But it's what I'm going to do. 

I'm going to go through the mess of toys and separate them all out into piles (the Barbies, the LEGOs, the marble run pieces, the NERF items, etc.). When the child comes downstairs, I will ask the child put the toys back in their bins. I think that if I break the large problem into small manageable sizes, the child can do the rest on his or her own.

Fingers crossed.


  1. I’ve seen your mothering skills. You’ve got what it takes. You DO have strong willed kids. You will teach them how to be strong and also responsible. You deserve a nap.

  2. Well, we don't have the exact same problems but you know I relate. Actually, I love that we both struggle, and that the details of the struggle aren't the same, but the way it feels is. That means I can empathize with you, without either of us feeling like "yeah, but my kid is worse, so I feel worse." HA! Being a mother is like being on the very worst roller coaster ever invented. Man, it still has me as dad. One more thing I have to figure out sometime today, I guess...


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