Dear difficult child,
Sometimes I wonder if I’m exaggerating how much trouble you make all day. Am I being dramatic, I wonder, just collecting your mishaps like funny postcards to share with people, or laying them out like a storyboard to explain why it’s not actually my fault that you are so hard? Here’s how I know you’re a difficult kid- I suddenly relate to all the other parents who have difficult kids. We exchange stories like shell-shocked war reporters, still stunned at the lives we suddenly find ourselves living, lives where we have no idea how to parent our own children.
I know you’re difficult because I have other children who are more compliant and easier to sway, children who cry and ask forgiveness whenever they even perceive my disappointment. They, of course, carry their own battles, a life spent overcoming their need to please and their desire to be “good,” which isn’t something I want for any of my children. ‘Good’ is false. I want you to be true. To be kind. To be passionate. To be wise.
So while other kids will fight their own battles quietly and with a little more grace, you are different. Your battle is not against the desire to be liked, or to please others. Your battles have no grace. Your battles are trench wars, dirty and transparent and exhausting.
Speaking of grace in the fight; have I mentioned all the ways I’m afraid I’ve already failed you? All the moments I fought with you instead of for you? All the days I wished away? All the times I couldn’t see your precious heart past the blur of your busy hands? The times I heard your name on my lips in a voice I pray you won’t remember?
I feel guilty writing about this. It’s your life. Your childhood. It’s your basic personality. Do I really want you to know how I felt so useless and inept being your mom? Do I really want you to have evidence of the war I carried in my own heart to do what is best for you? When I actually just had no idea what to do with you at all?
But this is my life too, right? You’re mine. For better or worse. For all my failures, for all your challenging ways, we are in this together. I am the sieve through which you are being sifted. You can’t go unchecked. I have to raise you up, I have to guide you towards adulthood, I have to hold your hand even when you’re yanking it away from me, because parking lots are dangerous and you may disagree but guess what? This is just the small stuff. The world is coming at you, and I have to get you ready. Ready for drivers who aren’t paying attention. Ready for friendships. For jobs. For love. For life outside these walls.
And being your sieve? It’s a sharp kind of work. Sharp learning curves. Sharp detours. Sharp words directed at me. Sharp words directed at you. Sharpening of us both. Being the sieve doesn’t mean I can’t have a voice about doing the sifting. Or that I can’t write about the pain. But it does mean I have to remember something important.
Here’s what I need to remember:
You are not broken.
You’re not broken.
You are difficult. Some days you are impossible. Some days I am out of ideas before breakfast, so overrun and overwhelmed with your stubborn push and pull that I want to melt into the floorboards and be mopped away with the 3rd cup of water you just knocked over while disobeying again. I kneel by your bed most nights in tears, praying while you sleep, asking forgiveness for my mistakes, begging God for a small measure of mercy as I stumble through these days with you.
But you aren’t broken. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re incredible, in fact. You are a force, an enigma, a complicated tangle of bad ideas, brilliant solutions, and paths that I can’t imagine taking, but that you somehow see without even trying.
There’s such a power in you, difficult child. I can feel it when you fight me, I can feel it in your defiance, I can see it in your pursed lips. Your body is strong. Your mind is set. Your will is flint. These traits are not easy to parent. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. With wisdom and time, these will be your greatest gifts.
Here’s what I’m not going to do: I’m not going to leave you to your own devices. Let you be. Ignore every “stage” and hope you mature out of yourself.
I promise you this, baby. Look in my eyes, you tornado of a person-
I will not give up.
I will pursue you and your heart to the ends of the earth. I will ask you to grow. I will sit with you in the dark of your cocoon. I will lean in and lean hard and hold you as you pull away, hold you until it’s time to let go, because you are my person and I am your mother, and the love I burn with puts the flames of the sun to shame.
Spill 1,000 cups of water. Break the things I love. Wreck our car. Fail a class. Skip curfew. Fight with us. Fight with all you are, with all you’ve got. We aren’t going anywhere.
And one day, you will be grown. So God help me, God give me everything I need, moment by moment, God be my manna in the desert of the hard days with you: I will fight for you. I will kneel by your bed each night. I will lay beside you when you fall. I will stand and rejoice as you become exactly who you are meant to be, sharpened and softened in all the right places, not by your tired and inadequate mother, but by the God she called out to when she did not have any answers at all.
You are my child. You are the dream of my heart. You are a million answered prayers all at once. And yes, you are difficult. You unbalance me, you shake me to my core, you humble me in every single way I can express.
Believe this: You, my love, are exactly who I wanted.
Love, from this day in this year and all the years to come,