A whole bunch of years ago, I was the mother of a willful boy. Come to think of it, I still am. We just do better at working together than we used to.
One day, this boy - maybe 11 or 12 - was upset. I don't remember now what it was about, and I don't know if I even knew the reason then. But he threw a temper tantrum and ended up running out of the house and climbing up our cherry tree. The tree was large and the branches were sturdy. The boys had rigged up platforms and shelters and swings and even a zipline or two from its canopy. Many hours were spent under those shady leaves, and now my boy was up there and wouldn't come down.
I tried everything I could think of. I wheedled and cajoled, talked and reasoned, demanded and threatened. When nothing worked and I lost my patience, I stormed next door to my parents' house. My youngest brother was still at home and had been especially close to my older boys. It was his aid I enlisted as I threw up my hands in desperation. "Whatever you need to do! Just get him down!" I went back to my house to give some love and attention to the other four boys who had been frightened by their brother's outburst.
I don't know now how long it took before the boy came down, or if he was happy about it. I have a strong suspicion that he wasn't. But I probably felt relieved that this particular trial was over, and I might have even felt like I won the conflict in the end.
As I look back, I wonder why I couldn't have just left him in the tree. Did I really need to assert my superiority by insisting that he come back into the house? I'm not sure that's what I was doing, but whatever my motive, I don't think it was right. If I had a do-over on this particular situation, I would have allowed this determined boy of mine all the time he needed to sit in the tree, settle his heart with the aid of nature's balm, and sort out his feelings. And when he finally came back in, I would have greeted him with kind words and love.
I'm a better mom now than I used to be. I have more experience and wisdom, and I've learned an awful lot. When I think back on my "bad mom" moments, I feel bad for my children - and for myself. We've had some tough times. Recently I was feeling discouraged for all the parenting mistakes I've made. There have been a lot of them. But then I felt a sweet rush of peace and a gentle reminder that I was doing the best I could. It wasn't necessarily my best in every given moment, but overall I was doing the best I knew how to do. If I had known better then, I would have done better then. The warmth in my heart told me that it was all forgiven, and that I did ok in my inexperience.
Today, as I look at those same older boys, I do feel a twinge of guilt for not having parented them better. I was not the best mom as I was learning - but they weren't the best sons, either! We've all come a long way and become better. So maybe I wasn't that bad of a mother. Maybe I did just what I needed to under the circumstances. Maybe these boys will turn out fine anyway. ...oh wait, they are. They are amazing, so I must have done something right.