I was speaking with a friend who this year became a first-time parent through foster care. As she shared some of the challenges of entering the tumultuous waters of parenthood with a ten-year-old, five-year-old, and infant, I couldn’t help but think of how often we attribute our kids’ behavior to random acts or the inexplicable peculiarities of children. But as I think about it I wonder if there really is no such thing as an isolated incident.
Just think about it—recall a time when you had a thought, question, or announcement that came as a surprise to those around you. Memories or ideas are easily triggered by specific words, songs, scents, or surroundings. The other day I was at a coffee shop when an Ani Difranco-esque song started playing. Immediately I was back at my college freshman dorm, soaking up the hippy sounds that were so popular at my flannel-loving, barefoot-is-a-way-of-life northwest school. In the instant that music hit my ears my mind flooded with images and emotions from a time long gone, so strong that I interrupted the conversation with my friend to share what hit me. She could follow my train of thought because I explained it to her, but had I simply commented that I could never get on board with the barefoot trend because I hate when my toes get cold, I imagine she would have felt rather in the dark.
My point is simply that there is always something going on behind the scenes. Thoughts don’t materialize out of nowhere simply because their genesis begins out of sight. The same is true for our kids. Have you ever found yourself dealing with a tantrum or a door slamming, or perhaps on a happier day a spontaneous hug or a explosion of gleeful exuberance over a simple pleasure? These expressions from our kids come from somewhere, from a well deep within.
This is helpful for me to remember when I’ve got things roiling underneath the surface of my own heart and mind. So often I take what my kids give me—perhaps a heavy sigh—and attach to it all the baggage from my own well before I remember they have a well all their own. This morning one of my girls didn’t joyfully thank me when I reminded her that it might be wise for her to wear her snow mittens on snowy days for recess, rather than her fluffy but not water resistant gloves. Her grumbling submission to my reminder somehow didn’t bring out much joy in me either. She had been excited to wear her new fluffy gloves—that was part of what was in her well. I was tired of gear being used for purposes it was not intended, creating cold children and sopping wet clothes—that was my well. I actually sat my girl down and—gently—told her that I felt disrespected after accumulated heavy sighs and eye rolls over time. She listened and we got through our morning peacefully. But now as I think back I realize our conversation might have been even more productive had I also searched out her well and invited her to share it. Mining the depths is always the call of a parent. Sometimes I succeed and so often I don’t.
But there are new days, new chances, and—good or bad—the wells will never run dry. There are always waters running deep in the depths of our children’s hearts and minds. There will be more outburts, more tears, more anger, more joy, seemingly out of nowhere. We can count on it. There will be times when my first thought is: Well that sure was random. But random, isolated—I’m really not so sure they’re as common as it may appear. I may not know when the next instance will occur, but I sure know it’s coming at some point. I guess all I can do is continue to arm myself with a towel and listening ear for when the spilling starts.