Tell me you’re familiar with this scene: Your kids spend a day — or maybe even a night or two, if you’re lucky — away at their grandparents’ house. Or maybe it’s an aunt’s or an uncle’s or a close friend’s. You receive nothing but stellar reports about their behavior. They said “please” and “thank you” the whole time. Ate their vegetables. Even brushed their teeth without a fight.
The second they’re dropped off at your door, all hell breaks loose.
Cue the whining. The tantrum-throwing. The refusal to do even the most mundane of tasks. There’s kicking and screaming and floor-writhing. One of them accidentally bumps into another. The chaos increases ten-fold. One of them even has the audacity to look at another with their eyes. THEIR EYES. This signals Jesus’s second coming.
You’re at the end of your rope, and it’s only been 15 minutes. You’re wondering what you could have possibly done in your former life to deserve such punishment. You don’t understand why, of all people on Earth, your kids seem to hate you the most.
Well, listen up, because this is important: They don’t hate you. Quite the opposite. They have expended so much energy being agreeable little angels for someone else that they finally feel free enough — comfortable enough — to let all that bottled-up emotion out on someone. And it’s you. Because they love you. And they know you will love them no matter what.
It’s not that they don’t love or even feel safe around these other people. It’s just that nobody can quite measure up to Mom or Dad. Nobody.
My mother regales me with tales of how she used to pick me up at my grandmother’s house after work. She would receive shining reports about my demeanor while there. And then the second she got me in the car, I made it my life’s mission to make her life miserable.
She tried soothing me. She tried disciplining me. She tried everything short of hiring an exorcist, all to no avail. Finally, she broached the subject with my pediatrician.
“Yeah?” he smirked. “That’s normal. Every last bit of it. It’s not that she doesn’t love or even like you,” he said. “It’s that you are her safe space, and she has to get it all out around someone she’s positive will still be there for her when she’s done.”
Well, hot damn, she thought. Moms get to have all the fun.
When you think about it, though, it makes perfect sense. Who do we reserve our ugliest sides for? Those whom we love, of course. Because we know they’ll still be there after the Crazy Train slides into the station. We know they’ll help us pick up the pieces if we derail. And we know that they know this too shall pass.
And if they aren’t still there — if they don’t help us with disaster cleanup — then we know they’re not our people.
It’s easy for us to feel like failures at parenting when our kids go from Pollyanna to Poltergeist in our presence. But we’re not. In fact, as hard as it is — and believe me, it’s the hardest of all the hards to ever hard — to feel as though we get 95% of our kids’ nasty stuff while others maybe only get 5%, we have to remember it’s because they love us and know we love them that they reserve it just for us. We have to remember that it’s not a sign of failure. It’s a sign of success. Because were we not doing it right, they wouldn’t feel safe enough to open up and be human.
They are, after all, only human.
So the next time someone offers to take your kids off your hands for a bit, enjoy the respite. Remind yourself that you’re killing it at this whole raising little humans thing. And then treat yourself to something special. You deserve it.
Because your kids love and appreciate you. And they’re going to come back home soon and show you just how much.