The epic Starbucks incident that made me a better parent.
It was one of those moments when you wish you could disappear into the wallpaper. Three-year-old Levi was screaming—screaming—bloody murder in the Starbucks bathroom and for the life of me I could find no “mute” button.
I’m pretty sure people must have thought I was in there beating him, and if there had been a loudspeaker within a five mile radius I would have hijacked it to announce that HELLO WORLD, I DON’T EVEN SPANK MY CHILDREN, MUCH LESS BEAT THEM. (Oh yeah, I’d have spoken in all caps and bold for sure.)
After spending the day at the Portland zoo, we had ducked into Starbucks so I could grab a coffee and make sure everyone did the potty rounds before heading over the mountain pass to my parents’ house in Bend. It was late in the afternoon and I was hoping to make the three hour drive without stopping.
Levi didn’t want to use the bathroom. He hadn’t gone in several hours, but still, he wasn’t willing to give it a try.
No amount of please just try was going to change his mind. I powered on, frustrated and determined that he at least sit on there and give it a go because I’m the mom and I know what’s best. As much as I powered on with my reasoning and coercing, he powered on with the screaming and sobbing and protesting.
Eventually he changed his no, no, no sobbing to trust me mommy, trust me mommy, trust me mommy sobbing.
Those three little words were a game-changer.
Would I persist and have my way, knowing that I was right? Or would I give up my right to be right and show him that I trusted him?
The answer was a no-brainer. Obviously I would not choose forced obedience over my child feeling trusted, so I threw in the white flag.
I hate being wrong. . . especially when I’m right. But I hate even more to think that my child might feel like his own mother would refuse to trust him.
This wasn’t an obedience issue or a respect issue; it was a trust issue, a relationship issue.
I hugged him tight and helped him to settle while his sobs morphed into gasps for air and then calmed to quiet sniffling. I asked for his forgiveness for making him feel like he wasn’t trusted, and assured him that if he changed his mind and had to stop to go potty later I wouldn’t be mad.
(Sometimes it helps to remember we aren’t dealing with adults as we parent our children. Sometimes it helps to remember they are three and doing the best they can with what they know.)
I drove over the mountain pass feeling sad that in the heat of our argument it took me so long to figure out that he wasn’t concerned with being right, he was concerned with being trusted. I forgave myself and remembered that just like he was a toddler learning how to do grown-up things, I was only a toddler-mom – learning and fumbling and grasping for grown-up wisdom to know how to parent him.
We made it home without stopping to go potty, and pulling into the driveway Levi said (without one bit of animosity in his tone), “See Mommy, I didn’t have to go!” I assured him he was right and told him I was so proud of the way he helped me to understand his needs. (On a side note: he really is the most remarkably determined young thing!)
Our relationship was both torn and then mended right there in the tiny Starbucks bathroom as I learned a valuable lesson that day: children need to feel trusted by us just as much as they need to feel like they can trust us.
And again I thanked God for giving me such a profound little teacher. Apparently even those of us who parent to build relationships, not robots need to be reminded of our own priorities every now and then.
So tell me friends, what have your children been teaching you lately?
Loving the little years,