As papi to 8 children I have been regularly faced with a significant load in trying to connect with my kids.
There is a lot that happens in life, there is a lot of living that 10 people do in one house, so there is constantly something to wash, clean, pick up, put back, get out, fix, make, build, take apart, and leave alone.
The other day my oldest was really upset that he was having to participate in the chores around the house because he felt that it was unfair, he hadn’t created any of the mess and now he was being asked to clean up.
This is the part where I probably would have gotten mad at him, escalated the… we’ll call it a discussion, and told him off for how ungrateful he was being, how he was acting entitled and life just isn’t fair so stop whining about it and get it done.
For me, my children’s behavior has often been a point of both pride and a source of deep frustration.
It has meant that I was either a good parent or a bad one. It has meant that I was doing it right or that I was failing miserably.
We used to go out with our 4 or six kids ( we don’t go out with all 8 at the same time these days partly because they are all at such different stages of life and the older ones often have activities). People would stop us so often and tell us what well behaved children we had. Sitting at dinner in a restaurant or grocery shopping was usually a high point because, in public our kids were kids, but the best behaved kind.
They did what we asked, they sat nicely and had conversations with us and we all enjoyed being out together.
These days we are all getting a lot more time with our children because of school closures and work from home or work shutdowns.
For us, even though I work from home and we homeschool our kids, our lives have shifted dramatically from one of going to sports activities, church youth activities, seminary at 5:40 AM, our oldest going to work, our littles playing with the neighborhood kids and all the normal stuff that you do when you are a large family of highly social people.
We now stay home more, our kids interact with outside people a lot less, practically not at all, in fact and we see a lot more of the inside of our home and each other.
All of this leads up to the moment two nights ago when my oldest was what I would call excessively upset over being asked to clean up a mess that he didn’t make.
As I stood there, tired from a day of work, with a tube of caulk in my hands because I was putting it on the baseboards that I had just replaced on the entire main floor, I looked at my son with anger and frustration welling up in me.
I wanted him to just help, to just get it done, to just stop complaining about the work that was obviously going to need to be done by someone. I didn’t understand why he was acting like this and why did I have to deal with his bad attitude.
I could feel myself getting warm and I was seeing red.
At that moment I realized something that I had been trying to do for a few months now. I was trying to see my children and everyone around me the way I wanted to be seen. And trying to eliminate what felt like near constant bickering among my kids when they are home.
I realized that this was that moment where I could change the whole situation. I realized that love was the one thing that I needed to bring to the equation.
So, I just stopped running around applying caulk, even though it felt like there was a time crunch because that stuff dries, and I looked at my baby boy who is now the size of a grown man and I said, “It’s ok, I’ll do it when I finish this. You don’t have to.”
Then I put my hand on his shoulder with love in my eyes and went back to what I was doing.
I had peace, in that moment. I knew that I might have to go back and clean up, but it was ok. I realized that no fight was worth that clean up.
No amount of obedience is worth the conflict.