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Mommy's Little Manipulator

Remember when, a couple weeks ago, I wrote
about how amazing it is to hear your kid say, “I love
you”? How it’s the purest, sweetest thing in the world,
coming from your little baby girl?

And then they grow up and get crafty.

I’ve noticed Maddie has a disturbing habit of breaking into a
chorus of, “Mommy, I love you so much!” right when she
notices I’m becoming cross with her. I can’t help but
suspect she’s discovered how turning her big soft eyes
towards and adult and saying sweetly, “(fill in the blank), I
love you so much! I really, really, really do!” makes said
adult simply melt into a puddle at her feet. Indeed, there’s
nothing else she can say (even something more appropriate, such as,
“I’m wrong, and I’m sorry”) that would have
such an instant, reversing affect on the direction of the

I’m not saying she’s doing
this consciously – I don’t think it’s hit quite
that stage yet. But I do believe she sees adults becoming upset and
perhaps wants to bring them to a happier place, at least partly for
selfish reasons.

Last week when we were at the mall, I’d forgotten the
stroller base for Cora’s car seat and had to rent one of
those huge strollers shaped like a car for her. Of course, Maddie
saw that and was incredibly upset that she didn’t get her own
car to ride around in, and while I was trying to wrestle with a
squirmy baby who would much rather be held or crawling, a diaper
bag, and two wet umbrellas (mine and Elmo’s), Maddie jumped
into the stroller parked next to the one I was working on.

“Maddie, you may sit in that, but you must understand I will
not push you anywhere in it, and you will need to get out as soon
as I get Cora situated in this one.” Her vague half-nod was
dismissive, meaning, “I hear you but choose to filter out the
unpleasant truths in your statement”, but I knew it was the
best I’d get and my temper was getting short. I continued to
try to jam the $@#$ Elmo umbrella into a cupholder until I spied
one of Maddie’s rainboots slipping over the side of her car
and dropping to the floor.

“Madeleine! What are you doing?”

“I’m taking my boots off so I can drive, Mommy!”

“You absolutely may not take your boots off, Maddie, and if
you take the other one off you will have to get out right away
before I’m finished.”

The problem with these threats, of course, is that you have to
follow through on them, which is often more inconvenient for you
than for the kid. The other boot came out, and I had to improperly
strap Cora in, stop searching for five ones in my purse, and throw
the diaper bag on the floor so I could make good on my threat and
take Maddie out. She began whining and protesting, thrashing around
as I searched for the boots so I could put her down. An immediate
consequence threat – the loss of the ride on the carousel if
she didn’t stop right away – ended the disobedience,
but not before a stray kick had accidentally hit me in the stomach.

Every single one of you knows how I felt at that time. Tired,
overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, with a strong urge to lash out.
Shaking with the effort of keeping it in and not turning abusive on
my child, I said quietly, “Maddie, I am very upset with you
right now. Hold still and get your boots on immediately.”

Madeleine could sense something was wrong, for she looked at me and
said solemnly, “Mommy, I love you very very much. I want to
hug and kiss you.” And watched me expectantly.

Only this time I didn’t melt. This time I was so angry, so
frustrated, that those few words simply made me feel manipulated,
as if she thought all I needed to be made happy were a few cheap
words tossed easily at me. And I didn’t want to let her off
the hook that quickly. “I am still really upset with you,
Maddie.” I said, stalling for time to think. “Mommy, I
let me kiss you!” she said, slightly panicked at the
deviation from the script.

My whole career as a parent, I’ve always vowed to really
listen to my kids, to respect them, to acknowledge that I hear what
they say and encourage them to share their feelings. I never want
to belittle their emotions or dismiss them as unimportant, and want
to make them feel comfortable always expressing what’s inside
rather than leaving much unsaid. So a part of me felt at that
moment that the good parent thing to do was to smile and say,
“Thank you, honey, that means so much to me! And I love you,

But – and here’s where blogging is hard, because I make
the conscious decision to be truthful, warts and all, so you know
you’re not the only out there that feels this way – a
big part of me wanted to make Maddie as hurt and frustrated as I
was. God help me, part of me wanted to finish getting the stroller
in silence and stride away down the hall, leaving that offering of
love lying rejected and untouched on the linoleum, leaving Maddie
to trail after me anxiously, saying, “Mommy, wait for me!
Mommy! Mommy! Please let me kiss you!” A piece of me –
a not small piece of me – wanted to extract my pound of flesh
from that two-year-old’s heart and pay her back for my
frustration and anger, to manipulate her into obedience through
fear – fear of making Mommy mad, fear of having Mommy’s
love withheld, withdrawn, fear of being left – the way she
tried to manipulate me through empty words. I wanted her to feel
the sting of being outside the Mommy bubble so she wouldn’t
take me for granted and would start appreciating all I do for her
two-year-old hiney.

But (and this is the biggest but) another, not so big, part of me
knew it was the wrong thing to do. As much as I felt manipulated by
what she said, I also knew that her “I love you” was,
perhaps even unconsciously, at least partly a confession, and
partly an apology. And as her mother and as a model of Christ in
her life, it was my job to accept that confession, accept that
apology, and show her love and forgiveness.

Did I break into a big smile and say, “Baby, I love you too!
Give me a big kiss!” you are wondering?

Nope. But I did the best I could, which was better than I thought I
could when I started.

I took a deep breath and said, “Honey, I love you too, and I
will always love you, even when you do something wrong and make me
angry. And it fills my heart that you want to hug and kiss me. But
you have to know that even the love you feel for me can’t
keep you from the consequences of your actions. And just because I
get frustrated or angry doesn’t mean I’ve stopped
loving you; it’s your actions and choices that upset me, not
your heart, and your disobedience costs you your freedom and your
choices, but never my love.”

And by the time I’d finished that speech, I found I actually
meant it, and more, I was smiling and ready for that kiss.


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