Defense Mechanisms and Giving My Son More Credit

Waiting on the trash man…his favorite day of the week.

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A wise person I know recently pointed out a defense mechanism I exercise a bit too frequently.

Self criticism.
Putting myself down before others get the chance to.
Nothing too serious. It’s not like I hate myself.
It’s more like I’m trying to protect my heart from anything negative others may think about me.

Like when I constantly point out to my friends that I’m terrible at returning phone calls, or emails, or texts. Or my inability to make a time commitment because having appointments and scheduled activities on the calendar gives me anxiety. I find myself hurrying to say something like, “Don’t mind that I’m not wearing makeup and still have my pajamas on”…before the other person has a chance to think “wow, she looks like a train wreck today”. Because I would rather put the negative thought in their head before they have the chance to think it on their own. And while the negative self-talk generally only points out minor flaws of mine, I realize that even on a small level, self-criticism adds up….it can take its toll.

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We live up to the potential we see within ourselves.
And painting a picture of the worst version of ourselves diminishes that potential of who we’re meant to be…of who we’re working to become.

I received a slap in the face today…
When I realized that I was imposing this defense mechanism onto my son.
When I realized I was focusing on what I perceived to be his shortcomings, rather than having faith in the best version of him.
When I realized I was underestimating the boy I know he is capable of being.

Today was a big milestone for the Wes-man. In my church, when kids reach a certain age at the new year, they graduate from their nursery Sunday school and move into a “big kids” class called Sunbeams. These toddlers are expected to transition from sitting on little square carpets with their legs criss-cross-apple-sauce, where they eat gold fish crackers and fill up coloring books…to a classroom full of elementary school aged children sitting in large fold out chairs, speaking in complete sentences and learning about Jesus.

It’s a pretty big jump for a three year old.
And I’m a bit ashamed to say that I didn’t have great expectations for Wesley’s first day. I happen to be a leader in Wesley’s Sunday school program, and over the past 4 weeks we have been slowly immersing the children into the new classroom setting for only about 15 minutes at a time, in preparation for the new year when they would be expected to sit still for the full hour. Each week these 15 minutes have felt like hours to me, as Wesley clung to my waist, whined in frustration and refused to follow any instructions from the teacher giving the lesson. As hard as I tried, I didn’t see how this transition was going to be successful.

Knowing today was the big day, I spent the entire morning agonizing…bargaining…attempting to come up with some reason I could give to other Church leaders about why Wesley should stay with the younger class for another year. He just wasn’t ready. And he seemed so much younger than the kids he would soon be associating with. I wanted to protect him. Shield him from this overwhelming experience. An experience that I didn’t think he could handle.

After a morning of wrestling him into church clothes…
And explaining and RE-explaining to him that he couldn’t wear his Thomas the Train shirt to church…
And nearly dragging him to his car seat kicking and screaming…
Well, let’s just say I wasn’t any more convinced on the success of this transition.

I grumbled into church, whined to a handful of my friends who politely pretended they weren’t sick of me agonizing on this topic, and did my best to take deep breaths in preparation for the coming hour.

To some of you reading, I may sound like a ridiculous parent. Overkill. Drama. Making a mountain out of a mole hill. But for those of you who have been reading along here for a while, you know how much of a trial these small milestones can be for my little guy. (see here, here, here and here). Change is tough on him. And therefor tough on me. Even the tiniest moderation to life as he knows it can send him into a tailspin of frustration…and forces me into an ultimate trial of my patience. So I guess you could say I was dreading the aftermath of what would likely result from today.

Class was about to begin and I knew if Wesley was going to have any chance of making it through the next hour without a meltdown, I was going to need to make myself scarce.

I finished escorting other children to their classrooms and then settled in to a nook in the back of the room where I wouldn’t be seen from Wesley’s vantage point. I fidgeted, resisted the urge to pull, and said a prayer in my heart.

And then I looked up…
Just in time to see my not-so-little-anymore boy walk into the room holding his sweet teachers hand.
He was cautious. Quiet. Observant.

I watched his eyes dart back and forth as he searched for me amongst the crowd.
I ducked down lower and peaked at him through a crack in between the chairs.
He searched for me a moment longer and then he looked up at his smiling teacher…
Smiled back at her…
Let go of her hand…
and sat in his little chair ready for class to begin.

And that was it.
Just like that, he was ready.

My jaw hit the floor.
Was this really happening?

Tears welled in my eyes and my chest gave that Momma twinge.
The twinge from the part of my heart that will always belong to him.

I watched the remainder of the hour long class from between the crack in the chair.
And I beamed as all the big kids gave Wesley a high-five at the end of class.
“Way to go Wes, you’re a big guy now!” “Will you sit by me next week?”
He didn’t respond. Just tilted his neck back as far as it would go as he looked up at their kind faces and smiled back at them.

Now let me be clear.
He was by no means an angel.
He’s three years old for goodness sakes.
At one point he had gotten out of his chair and was completely laying down on the floor in the middle of the lesson…
Until another teacher came and picked him up and gently placed him back in his seat while the other children giggled.
And there were about a half dozen other similar incidents.

But there were no tears.
And there were lots of smiles.

As my heart swelled from the back of the room, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with the important Momma-life-leson staring me right in the face.

This wasn’t about Wesley.
This was about ME.

Clearly, he was ready.
The last hour had proven that.
It was ME who wanted more time.
It was ME who wanted him to stay my baby for just a little while longer.
It was ME attempting to orchestrate a world that would continue to cater to the routine and lifestyle he has grown accustomed to.
When in reality, that’s not how the world works.
Things don’t always go our way.
And it’s my job as his Mom to introduce him to these new experiences,
rather than shield him from every opportunity to step outside of his comfort zone.

But not only that…
Even as my heart beat with pride, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of guilt creeping in.

I hadn’t given Wesley the credit he deserved.
I underestimated who I knew he was capable of being.
I assumed the worst, rather than expecting the best from my son.
And that was a sucky realization.

I wasn’t reflecting the strength and confidence I needed him to show in that classroom.
But luckily for this regretful Momma, it didn’t matter.

Because today, Wesley was strong enough for the both of us.
Today he was my example.

Today he reminded me that it’s my job to be a champion for my children.
To have more confidence in them than even they have in themselves.
Because in the future, there will certainly be days when their confidence falters…
and they will have their doubts…
And on those days, when they look in my eyes searching for comfort and answers,
what they see staring back at them sure as heck better serve to restore their confidence
and remind them of all the greatness they are capable of.

Our children are ALWAYS smarter than even we imagine.
It’s our job to make sure they know it.
Even if they’re only three years old…

1-photo copy 8colored by Wesley today. age 3. my big boy.

 

Ashley Stock
I'm Ashley. Sometimes I craft, occasionally I cook, everyday I write, and I'm always Momma. This is my blog. I keep it real while still seeing the rainbows and butterflies in all of life's lessons.
Ashley Stock
Ashley Stock
Ashley Stock

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Comments

  1. Holy cow, thank you for slapping me in the face as well!! I have a 2.5 yr old girl, and a 5.5 yr old boy. My girl didnt start talking as soon, or as well as my first. Looking back the last 6 months I would always tell people after they would try to say hi or ask her name, (and she wouldn’t respond), I would always jump in and answer for her and explain to people “oh she is a late talker”, “her older brother was saying sentences by two..she’s just taking her time”. I was doing what I thought was protecting her?? Or me ? Im not sure. But Kailey is now catching up very quickly, and all along I knew she was understanding. I was probably inhibiting her if anything…..ugh guilt. But awareness of these mistakes gives me confidence that I can stop my insecurities from effecting my children and their outlook of themselves. Thank u for this.

  2. Ashley, you are such a good writer.
    I can picture it all so well – and it kind of made me face the fact that my 3 year old WILL have to attend school next year (who also is a Thomas loving kid) and that as much as I would like to think he needs to stay a year behind, I know he is ready…I am not.
    What an amazing thing it is to learn life lessons through your children. I have learned so many this year.
    :) Anna

  3. I’ve followed your blog for some time – our older children our similar. Transitions are hard – the meltdowns can be embarrassing. My daughter (she will be 3 tomorrow!) is also in therapy. Just wanted to let you know you’re not alone. Treasure the little milestones :)

  4. Amanda Haulk says:

    This made me tear up a little! I’m the same EXACT way! My daughter will be 3 next month. I’m a stay at home mom so she’s never been to day care or anything, she’s always with me, and bc I this I have this fear that she won’t be ready to be in dance class, gymnastics anything like that by herself (they start by themselves at 3) thinking of her at school makes me sad bc she is soooo shy. But every time we get into some situation I feel scared about, I can always count on her to make me feel like an over protective, worried momma, bc she always shines. it’s hard for me to watch kids take things away from her and her be to shy to speak up, but it’s part of her growing up. It’s hard being a mom, and to think I’m starting all over again with another little girl

  5. Reading this post reminded me of something I learned quite a while ago with my son: the things I worry the very most about are usually the things he sails right through! Every success (or not complete train wreck, at least) makes it easier for me to be calm(er). Just to let you know that it does not ever end, though – I am currently worrying and worrying about middle school next year! eek!!

  6. Oh I love this! I have three year old boys that went to sunbeams yesterday for the first time, and I had SO many of the same feelings you did! I find that I often don’t give them enough credit, or have enough faith in them and their abilities to actually listen and comprehend things. They are very “high-spirited” and independent boys, and maybe because they are twins, but I get comments from people ALL THE TIME. So I found myself going on the defensive and pointing out their faults or flaws to people before they could point them out to me, i guess i just wanted people to know that yes, I know do actually know what they are doing. AWFUL!! My husband so kindly pointed this out to me a few months ago, and we both decided that we would only say positive things about our kids to people. Best thing ever. It’s helped me put more faith in my little boys! Three year old boys are definitely a challenge, but oh so fun and so cute!

  7. beautifully written & a lesson learned for ME today too. thank you.
    my all time most favorite blog & writing style.

  8. Had a similar experience when my daughter went to nursery. She screamed for a hour the first time she went so for the next month or so we just didn’t take her. My unwillingness to give her an opportunity to adjust to the change made the process so much longer! Long story short…. She absolutely loves nursery.

  9. You’ve remarkable thing on this site.

  10. I needed this. I see myself already doing this with my daughter. She just turned one last week. She was premature so she is a little delayed on some of her developmental milestones and I find myself always excusing her for not doing what some of the other babies her age are doing. I need to STOP! Thanks for this reminder!

  11. Wendy Orme says:

    Awesome post! Give yourself MORE credit…you are a fantastic mom!

  12. I’m glad it went well. Yesterday, I was glad my little one doesn’t turn 3 for 2 more weeks, so he will be almost 4 when he becomes a Sunbeam. But, you are right, I need to give him (and me) more credit! If you ever figure out how to get a little boy not to hate church clothes, I want to know!

  13. Such a sweet, sweet story. Wes did great! And I totally know how you feel – you put it into words I never could. Saying that negative thing out loud before the other person could think it. Sometimes it was a race for me to mention it before the thought could even start to creep in their head. “So, yeah, not wearing any makeup today…” “Oh, don’t mind the house – I know, it’s totally filthy, I didn’t have time to clean…” “My car is a total disaster and smells horrible – just to warn you…” One day, I read a blog post about a lady who mentioned that she would stop apologizing for her house and if it was dirty or not (I think maybe it was the Nester?) And that made sense to me. Because I didn’t look down at people who had a dirty house when I was over at their place. I didn’t look down at people who didn’t have time to do their makeup. Or when their car was dirty – I felt secretly relieved that someone else had a dirty car, too. It made sense to me. And I felt so much better. So I stopped apologizing (for the most part). And it’d kinda nice. I really love it. I try not to beat myself up every time I fail a little at something I wanted to work on. My husband is helping me realize that, too. Beating myself up only puts me down – it hurts me. Doing something (or not doing something), then saying, “You know what – it’s ok” has been a great stress reliever for me. It’s helped me embrace so many imperfections in my life. My husband does that – he’s always done that. I used to think it was “weakness” for lack of a better word – that it meant he wasn’t trying hard enough, that it meant he didn’t care or was giving up. But it doesn’t. It means you’re letting yourself live and grow. He’s a smart man. And you’re a smart lady. You put words together so beautifully – I love reading about your experiences and learning things from you. You reaffirm a lot of stuff I think all of us go through.

  14. I really enjoy your blog! I especially enjoyed the hair one and your openness!

  15. He made my eyes well up too! Such progress, what a wonderful proud moment you were able to be present for. Such an angel he is!!

    love,

    Misty

  16. Did you read the “telling my kids I’m beautiful”post that was circulating around Facebook a few months ago? http://offbeatfamilies.com/2012/11/telling-daughters-im-beautiful I’ve started doing this, taking better care of myself and proclaiming victory over my accomplishments. I don’t want my daughter growing up with low self-esteem. We cut ourselves short sometimes… As if you’re the only mom who’s had company over while you are still sporting pajamas. Pft. :)

  17. “It’s my job to be a champion for my children.” 100% agreed. It’s also our even more important job to be a champion for our children’s mother. This is something that my children have taught me. I used to be so worried about the way they were perceived by others as it was a reflection on me, until, like you, I realized my hang-ups with myself. I worked hard on those hang-ups and started loving myself more, giving myself permission for growth and error. When I was able to embrace myself, I could much more efficiently embrace my babies and allow them the space they needed too. Great post.

  18. This made me cry a little bit! I love your honesty as a mother; I find it grounding, inspiring, and uplifting. Thank you for sharing.

  19. my little guy became a sunbeam yesterday too! it’s so bittersweet to watch him grow up. my husband and i were just talking about how he’ll turn 4 this year and we’re not quite sure how he got so old. we feel like we just became first time parents (when he was born) and now we almost have a 4 year old!! thanks for your insights on your defense mechanism. i am going to try and be more aware of times when i do this, either regarding myself or my children. thanks!

  20. I had to laugh at this post…I’m a sunbeam teacher and had a little class of new kids yesterday. They are so precious. And I don’t know how much I’d worry about the Thomas shirt…I’ve had kids come with their favorite shirts on underneath their church shirts. It’s just how kids are. They are sweet, naughty, and surprisingly in tune with our Heavenly Father, and that’s why we love them.

  21. Ashley,
    I have followed your blog for quite a while now and I would have to say that we have a lot in common. I have very recently began to use the same defense mechanism that you explained in this post. I am a successful and well-educated woman, but I manage to doubt my own abilities far too often! I am not married nor do I have children yet, but I am a teacher and find that the words you speak are always very inspirational. Thank you for always “keeping it real” and your words of wisdom. I hope that one day I can be a wonderful mother and wife just like you.

  22. I think you might want to look at the Sonrise way. It’s a program for autistic kids but I feel that it is great for everyone. I’ve fully embraced those theories in my relationship, with my family and friends, in my work place and I feel so much better. It’s about celebrating the trying, not just looking at the end result. Letting go of the small things and giving control. And when there is crying and whining feel totally comfortable about it, sometimes we all need a good cry. I tell ya, live has become a whole lot easier to enjoy after I stopped letting myself get frustrated and started looking around for tiny things to enjoy. Like slow walkers in front of me were one of my biggest pet-peeve, now I look around and try and see something else I can focus on, like a crazy x-mas deco in the strange wedding shop on my street..

  23. it is a tightrope trying to be protective while letting the apron strings loosen.. Lovely episode. thank you for sharing. Thank God you had this insight at his age 3!!! You and your lovely family are going to be fine with Our Savior leading your way.

  24. Well don’t be so hard on yourself! Sometimes their very worst behaviors of all will only be seen by us, the parents! And it’s not unusual for them to behave better for others, not sure why! Congratulations to your big boy!

  25. Love this! My little girl missed her first day in Sunbeams because she was sick. She turns 4 this month though, but she does not do well with large groups of people. And I just got called to be the primary secretary sitting right next to the Sunbeams during sharing time, I’m sure this will be a distraction for her. Thanks for reminding me not to just concentrate on how hard it might be, I just need to be proud of her. Even if she still acts like a nursery kid. Hugs for Wesley doing a great job! He’s adorable!

  26. My goodness this post brought tears to my eyes because I have always been the same way with my son,, who is now 5. He is a bit immature for his age, and I wonder if I am holding him back and maybe enabling him to get a way with things that if I’d just empower him to do, he’d be able to accomplish? Great post.

  27. Sweet & beautiful lesson! <3

  28. So poignant and true! I have had days like these as well. Love your blog!! :)

  29. WOW! I so feel you on this! Had a recent similar experience where I basically “prepped” myself for my son to do bad only for him to exceed expectations like WOAH. Good catch, mama! And thanks for sharing. <3

  30. Thanks for your marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading it,
    you could be a great author. I will remember to bookmark your blog and will eventually come back from
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    great posts, have a nice afternoon!

  31. I just went back and read your post about Therapy and your little guy. I read the whole thing and was in tears by the end. I think we may be long lost best friends! LOL My little boy just turned 3 and I’m typing this just minutes before I head up to our school to fill out paperwork for testing to see if he needs therapy. The way you described your little man reminds me so much of my little Oliver! Thank you for posting and your honesty! It is nice to know there are other people out there dealing with similar situations!

  32. Once again…you amaze me with your writing. (does that ever get old? me saying that?) You and I have the exact same defense mechanism. It’s a tough habit to break. But reading this made me rethink things and I’m determined to be better about it. Thank you.
    And huge congrats to Wesley and you. I’m so excited and happy for him that things went better than anticipated. And for you. I so know how hard all of that is and the mixed emotions. Love you Ash!

  33. Annnnnnnd I just realized that this post was from Jan. Not today. Came over from FB. Obviously. Still feel the same way. xoxoxo

  34. Thank you for this article. I too have found myself jumping to acknowledge my flaws, like by bringing it up first and laughing it off it somehow makes it OK??? I find myself making excuses for what I think I’m going to be flawed at before the flaw even comes out. For example, when I first started playing recreational volleyball my first response when a friend asked me to play was “well, I’m probably going to suck but if you really want me to play?”. I feel like I want to lower their expectations before hand on something I’m unsure of myself doing.

    More importantly, I didn’t realize until I read this that I was actually doing it to my son too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m my son’s biggest cheerleader! I think he can do anything he puts his mind too but in certain moments I find myself with worries like “Is he really ready?” and so on. I remember telling the coach on the first day of little league practice this year, when it became obvious others had more experience, “This is the first time he has ever played so it may take him a minute to get up to speed and comfortable.” At the time I was trying to protect my son. I didn’t want anyone to think he just couldn’t do it or wasn’t as good as anyone else. To my surprise he went out there and totally impressed the coaches with his awesome throwing and catching skills!! Which is thanks to Daddy and some practice time in the backyard:)
    Then I read this and it all made me realize if I doubt him, even in the smallest way, he will learn to doubt himself.
    So thank you for putting into words exactly what I needed to figure out about myself to help me become a better Mommy one day at a time. :)

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