Parenting

Feeling Frustrated With Your Child Doesn't Mean You Love Him Any Less

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“That’s the light switch,” my son says, examining it closely. He’s got one foot on the bottom step of the five steps up to our front door. I’m standing behind him, the stroller slung over my shoulder, a package I found in our entryway under one arm, the diaper bag over my other shoulder, and sweat sliding down my spine and pooling in my waistband. “Uh-huh,” I say through gritted teeth. “Can we go upstairs please?”

“The light switch makes the lights turn on,” my son says, not budging. “Right. Now could we please . . .” “The lights are on now.” His voice is matter-of-fact, scientific. “But, if we flick the switch, the lights will turn off.” Yes, that’s true,” I say, my voice high pitched and vaguely panicky. “But, could you please go upstairs? I’m holding all this stuff and it’s really hot.” He turns to look at me. His foot comes down from the bottom step, he walks away from the staircase entirely. He takes in everything I’m holding with his serious, science professor stare. “Mommy is holding lots of stuff and she’s really hot,” he says. Then he smiles up at me and goes nowhere.

So, there I am, stuck in the stairwell with a person who is developmentally incapable of empathy. My emotions are myriad. First (and foremost) I am becoming increasingly annoyed and not a little bit desperate. The words “Get the F upstairs” are sort of flying around in my brain and bouncing off the inside of my skull. A vague and detached part of me is trying to work out how I can shift things around so that I can carry all this stuff, and my son and still have a hand free to unlock the door. And I’m being overtaken by a creeping sense of guilt that is making it hard to decide what to do.

The guilt, of course, is coming from the fact that I know my son isn’t trying annoy me. And, in some other (non-backbreaking, non-100-degree) circumstance, I would feel proud of his ability to understand cause and effect, his curious mind, and his interest in how things work. And I wonder: is there some other, perfect, version of me who puts all the things down on the ground, sits on the bottom step, and listens. Who lifts him up to try the switch, to test his hypothesis and gather data. Who waits for as long as it takes him to feel satisfied.

Because, really, what’s the rush? This moment won’t last forever. Soon light switches will be as mundane for him as they are for me. It’s only now, in this fleeting moment, that he sees them through eyes filled with wonder. Shouldn’t I savor this moment? Experience it with him? Answer all his questions and pose some of my own? How can I be so selfish as to want to go inside when he is filled with intellectual curiosity and awe?

I’ll tell you how. Because I’m freaking hot and all this stuff is heavy. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty. This little boy, the source of my current frustration, is the answer to my prayers. He’s the miracle that came after the loss of my first pregnancy. The person who made me a mother, the thing I most wanted to be. I would die for him. I love him with a passion so fierce it’s overwhelming. And I really, really want him to go upstairs.

There’s this urge sometimes (well, all the time) to project an image of perfect motherhood. Of course I’m the kind of mother who would sit on the step and talk about light switches! I must be. Because what if someone thought I didn’t love my kid enough? What if someone thought I was ungrateful? Not committed enough. Or worse, yearning for my life before.

No, no, I feel I must tell them. I love my child. I want nothing more than to be with him. To listen to him. To hold him. I’m never angry at him. Never frustrated. Never want a moment to myself. How could I? Look at him! He’s a miracle.

And he is a miracle. He really truly is. But both things can be true. I can love him with every ounce of my being, and need a break from time to time. I can be in awe of everything he’s learned, and everything he wants to learn, and still feel frustrated that he won’t go upstairs. I can find him funny, and fascinating, and still wish he’d stop asking the same question over and over and over again even though I’ve already answered it. I can do both. It’s possible. And it’s okay.

Becoming a mother is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. Staying home with my son is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I love my son deeply and completely and, as he grows and his personality develops, he’s also someone I like and want to spend time with. But I am human. And so is he. Sometimes we will frustrate each other. We will need our space. We will become irrationally annoyed, say things we don’t mean, apologize and move on. We’re people. It doesn’t mean we love each other any less. It just means please, for the love of God, get the heck upstairs.