Considering Motive

From the archives: 

I wrote this back in 2007. I am STILL working on remembering this. So this reminder is for me. 


Sometimes I feel like my children are guinea pigs in my grand experiment in parenting. My husband and I are not parenting experts. We’re figuring this out as we go along. We make mistakes (a LOT of them), and we talk about ways we’re messing up, and we ask for forgiveness, and we try again.

Lately, we both are feeling like we need to stop and consider our children’s motives before we rush to give consequences. Sometimes I hear my husband’s whisper in my ear, “Consider her motive.” Other times, I am the one who steps in to ask, “Why did you use half the roll of paper towels?”

As I’ve learned to stop and ask about motive, I’m often surprised. The child with the paper towels honestly thought she was helping clean the bathroom. On Sunday, at a crowded family get-together, I found one child eating dessert alone on the steps leading upstairs. In the past, I would have fussed at him for eating on the stairs and told him to get back to the table. With our new mindset on motive, I asked why he was eating alone on the stairs. He said it was so crowded he couldn’t even walk through the room to the table and so he thought he’d eat there on the stairs where he could just be by himself for a little while. It was very crowded and over-stimulating, so I asked him to please try not to get crumbs on the floor and to clean up after himself — and he eagerly did.

Since asking about motive, I’ve learned that the boys playing with water in the bathroom sink are testing Lego boats to see if they will float — not trying to make messes for me to clean up. I’ve learned that the girls with the Dawn and the snack plates in the bathroom sink really were trying to surprise me by washing the dishes for me (hiding in the bathroom with them was part of the surprise element). I’ve learned that the child climbing up to get scissors and tape is trying to make a card for Daddy or a crown for Sister. I’ve learned that the son who gets out of bed for what seems like the hundredth time is really very scared to be in his room because his brothers have fallen asleep and he feels all alone.

Why have I been assuming the worst of my children? I’ve assumed that they are disobeying because they don’t want to obey. At least, that’s how I’ve responded. I’ve assumed that their actions are deliberate acts to defy my authority. At least, that’s how I’ve responded. I’ve responded as if they are deliberately making extra work for me, deliberately creating messes, deliberately keeping me from resting or relaxing or having a conversation with my husband. Well . . . sometimes their actions are deliberate. And we certainly need to deal with that head-on. But other times, they are simply being children who see things from a very different perspective than I do. They don’t understand that turning the plate upside down gets crumbs all over the floor — they think that carrying the plate to the kitchen is helping me. How it must hurt them if I fuss about the crumbs (which my Hoover can take care of) rather than praise them for wanting to help!

How much better it is for me to say, “Thank you so much for wanting to help wash the dishes! Thank you for wanting to surprise me! That is thoughtful! Let’s carry these dishes carefully to the kitchen so they won’t get broken.” And then –if we need to– we can talk about the best place to wash dishes and being careful so we don’t break them and get cut or hurt.

I don’t get this right all the time. I probably get it wrong more than I get it right. But at least I am aware now, so I can try to do better. I’m trying not to react before stopping . . . breathing . . . and thinking about their motives.

My poor guinea pig children. I may have this parenting thing down by the time they’re all grown.


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