Written by: Loni Capshew
Whatever things are…excellent? Lessons in parental meltdowns, what advice should you follow from others, and how you will know what works.
When our three offspring were growing up, Charlie and I were caught in the maelstrom of influences that bombarded our generation of new parents in the seventies. We were at the tail end of the Spock years, still bruised and battered by the Viet Nam War and inclined to be slightly militant regarding individual rights and independent regarding new ideas and distinctly suspicious regarding old ones.
All this notwithstanding, when it’s your own child you’re holding in your hands and when that back-breaking responsibility suddenly rests squarely on your own shoulders, you suddenly feel much less glib and less inclined to dismiss advice than you did at seven months of pregnancy. Two years later, when that heaven-sent, inconceivably precious bundle of joy morphs into a screaming, kicking, bawling, irrational, snot-nosed mass of tiny humanity in the middle of your kitchen floor because you threw away her favorite (badly broken) sippy cup, your helplessness becomes even more dire.
I found myself gritting my teeth as I softly crooned, “Now, now, sweetie, use your inside voice. You know Mommy can’t help you when you scream. That’s not a good choice for you to make. No, no. Watch me walk out of the room.” You guessed it. The screaming, bawling mass followed me to the next room without missing a beat.
At this point I tried the next recommended methodology. I tossed a blanket over her and proceeded to ignore her. The screams escalated, and my shins took a powerful beating. Exhausted at this point, I resorted to instinct and just grabbed her up, clasped her tightly to me, and began singing her favorite song at the top of my lungs.
My angry toddler fought valiantly to escape my grasp at first, but she soon tired since I was clearly the stronger of us, and her fight was reduced to a series of wails that mysteriously fell into sync with my song whose volume gradually subsided with the ebbing strength of her wails. Soon I was crooning into her sticky wet hair, using her shirt tail to wipe the snot off her tear-stained, beet-colored face. Within fifteen minutes of my grasping her in that death grip, my little girl had buried her face deep into my chest, wrapped both her tiny arms around my neck, and had hiccupped her way into an exhausted sleep, secure in the arms of one whom she knew would hold her and love her no matter how loudly she wailed or how hard she kicked.
I’d so love to tell you that I always handled childhood outbursts with such grace and clarity. I’d really like to say that, but I can’t tell you I was always so grace-filled. I blew it badly many, many times. I found that the new-fangled ways were good on paper, but were not necessarily so accommodating of human nature at all times. Moms and Dads sometimes have meltdowns, too, you see—hopefully not as outrageous as that of a toddler, but just as real, and just as bewildering.
The danger of parental meltdowns, of course, is allowing them to overlap or interfere with childrearing. That’s easier said than done. When it does, we make mistakes because, far too often, childrearing itself is the cause of those meltdowns. It’s exhausting, confusing, frightening, and unpredictable. I raised three children, all of whom were as different as night and day. I couldn’t possibly write a book predicting a pattern by which you can predict an adolescent’s behavior based on my three, except to say: you just never know what to expect. One of mine was a challenge from the day she could crawl, one followed what I’d call a pretty “normal” curve according to child behavior experts, and one was so easy I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall – and it never really did. Yet all three of them have turned out to be amazing parents, amazing partners, amazing human beings and citizens, and loving offspring to their Dad and me. That, after all, was the goal
Charlie and I have never presume to set ourselves up as ideal parents, nor do we consider our three to be examples of perfect children. We aren’t and neither are they. We adore our children and couldn’t be prouder of them. I’m as serious as cancer when I say, we wouldn’t trade them for any others in the world. I truly mean that. They are works of art as far as we are concerned. We all love one another’s company, and we love the people with whom they’ve chosen to spend the rest of their lives and the amazing grandchildren they’ve brought into our lives thus far. Our family holidays are big, happy, noisy affairs. Everyone looks forward to them and plans for them weeks ahead of time.
Nonetheless, quite often we’ve had people ask us if we had any particular philosopy or advice to which we held in raising our three. Well, it’s so simple it confuses some people, and its probably what makes it so hard. Yes, we did and do. The whole thing is based on LOVE. However, it is based on the Biblical definition of Love, which we believe is that God is Love; therefore, Love is an incarnation of God.
We believe that we must model absolute, undying, immutable LOVE. That’s how our children come to know what and who the Creator of Life is. Unless we do this, we have robbed our children of the most valuable treasure on earth, the very touchtone of life itself. It can bring us joy in the midst of our deepest sorrow, in the depths of the darkest storm, in the very valley of death. Love. Life’s source.
When I picked up my screaming toddler that day and gripped her to my chest, I did what reasoning, ignoring, screaming, or paddling could never have accomplished. I modelled for her what God Love is. I showed her that “love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” * I believe that is the essence of God, the creator of life.
Because Charlie and I are so convinced that this truth is foundational to a meaningful life, he made a point of rewarding each of our three for memorizing a particular Bible verse from the New Testament. I think this passage is valuable advice whether or not an individual is a believer in God as the Christ. It’s just good sense for building good character, not only for children, but for us adults, as well:
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”**
This became the center of our discussions when one of ours would ask to do something we considered questionable or if we felt one of them was making wrong choices. We’d sit down with them and say, “Okay, how does this measure up to our family’s mission statement?” Like as not, we’d be getting a guilty little grin and agreement, begrudging or otherwise, that, yeah, it really didn’t measure up. That usually did the trick. If it didn’t, then the ball was in their court. We’d agreed on the evaluation; if they didn’t honor the decision, they’d face the consequences: grounding, loss of privileges, loss of video games or car keys. No drama. They’d been in on the evaluation; they knew the mission statement; we all lived by it, including Mom and Dad.
You can bet they called us on it, too, if they thought we’d slipped up—if we’d had one of those parental meltdowns I spoke about, if we’d used some unacceptable language, if we’d said something unkind about someone, if they thought we weren’t driving up to par, if we started sniping at one another —anything of that nature. It was essential that we take their “gotchas” in good nature because, after all, we’d chosen the standard.
I can’t guarantee any one methodology will work for everybody, but something really serendipitous happened recently that warmed my heart as a Mom and made me think maybe this path was successful for us. I visited my youngest daughter in her new home in another town and was moved almost to tears when I noted her latest work of art, hanging over her family’s breakfast table – a beautiful impressionistic skeleton of a tree with many, many branches against an outline of misty greens and whites. Transposed all throughout the branches were just a few scattered “leaves” bearing certain significant words. I read them aloud as she walked into the room and gave me a big hug: noble, right, pure, admirable, excellent, worthy.
Yep. That seems like a good, strong “family tree.”
*I Corinthians 13:7, Bible
** Philippians 4:8, Bible