Some days as Moms, we have an "A-ha!" moment. That instant when we see something in our child that reveals their deep need or their strong fear.
I don't talk about our son as often as I talk about our girls. For one, he is more private, and I respect that. And two, well, he is in the middle. He is easy-going, sweet as can be (no really, I have never met a sweeter boy), hard working, loyal, thoughtful, eager to please... seriously a delightful 12 year old. He is also brilliant, literal, and very black and white. He can talk your ear off, and it's usually to analyze something that he has seen, done or heard. But he loves to be on his own, quiet and lost in his thoughts, toys or task. He loves the Lord and all things doctrine, and loves his sisters practically and sweetly. I tell you all this to give you some insight into my incredible boy.
Last night I asked him to put some food away in our outside refrigerator, and this morning he went out to feed and water the chickens. Turns out he left the fridge open last night, and the hose trickling this morning. He is, more than just these past few days, struggling with his absent minded tendencies, and lack of focus on the task at hand.
Unfortunately, the fridge was a biggie. Closing fridge and freezer doors, along with house doors and gates, is a big deal around here. All the kids know it, as it can have huge consequences. Of course — I had gone grocery shopping yesterday, and there was well over $200 of food in the fridge we had to throw away today.
When we first discussed the situation with him, he had a very mature response: "I know I messed up. I also know I have been absent minded and a little lazy, and I need to work on that. I understand there are big consequences to my actions. I am so sorry."
He stayed calm, took responsibility, and heard what we said.
My husband and I left the room to discuss what needed to happen next. Truthfully I was stressing over the wasted food, wasted money, and wasted time. My frustration level was high, and if I am honest with myself, that's because I was focused on my own inconvenience. My husband was brainstorming how to help our boy be less absent minded and more attentive — he "gets" our son, and often offers him super practical, helpful wisdom.
We both agreed that the natural consequence was to cover the cost of some of the food, but since Dad and son had spent two 12-hour days working, without pay, around the house, and he does that regularly without complaint, we would give grace in that area. We considered it earned and paid for. The only consequence we felt he needed was to empty the fridge with me and add up the cost — he needed to connect his actions to the actual loss. We called him in our room.
Somewhere between the initial conversation and the second one we needed to have, something changed in him.
He came into our room when we called him, already in tears, and had clearly rehearsed a speech. He blamed the refrigerator door, appealed to his hard work, stated he only made one mistake, and was clearly not calm, rational or accepting of any blame.
We listened without interrupting, and then we talked. Eventually we explained why his first response was much better, and how, in fact, we had taken all his qualities and other choices into account, and he didn't need to blame shift or defend himself.
But here is the key to this whole long story: When I asked him what changed between conversations, he said, "I heard that you and Dad were talking, and I knew you were mad at me."
Middle children statistically feel misunderstood, of less value, and neglected. My middle child was connecting his positive traits —his hard work, eager spirit, helpfulness — to his worth. And when he lost our praise, in his heart, he also lost his value.
Of course other children could feel this too. But pay attention to those middles, Mamas. They are much more likely to try to earn affection and love through works — positive or negative — and they often feel overlooked.
We had some good gospel conversations about this, and reminded him about mistakes, forgiveness, our worth and value, and how our love and affection are not dependent upon his moments; and more importantly, neither is God's. We talked about how God forgives and still loves, and so do we, and how there is nothing he can do to remove our love for him. We reminded him that perfection is unattainable, and that all of his life he will hurt and disappoint people he loves (and be hurt and disappointed), and he needs to learn to live in the muddy waters of taking responsibility and accepting (or giving) forgiveness. Over and over we repeated that his value is not bound up in his actions, but in his existence, his person — his Imago Dei.
Then my 5'2", muscular, 12-year old son climbed onto our bed with us and curled up on my husband's chest. I weep as I type this at the memory of the assurance and affection he needed. For that moment, we had removed our praise — rightly — and he needed reassurance in a different, tangible way. We held him as he shook, we both cried too, and we let him stay as long as he needed.
Oh Lord, I forget. I forget that under that mostly-grown exterior is a heart that needs lifting and a soul that needs acceptance. I forget that as strong and helpful as he is, he wonders if he messes up, will he will be less worthy? I forget that when we have to remove our praise to correct, he needs assurance in some other way, so the hugs, affection and sweetness have to double, or triple. I forget that when he hears us talking he assumes the worst case scenario, and panics that he is not as highly thought of.
Mamas, hug those middle children. Let them stay up extra and snuggle and talk once in awhile. Invite them on dates and find out what is their heart's passion, and their biggest fear today. Ask the questions that get at the depths of their thoughts and feelings, and then work to calm their fears and relieve their worries. Don't allow bossy older or cute younger siblings to steal their rightful spotlight moments. Be unfair in your lavish attention on them sometimes — they don't hold a specified position in your household, and they can feel a little lost in that muddy middle. Don't allow them to be overshadowed or too easily talked into things — listen to their desires and try to fulfill them. Make their birthdays special and their events a highlight of the week. Encourage their siblings to cheer them on, attend their special moments, and show their appreciation.
Don't forget the unique struggles of your middle children. Don't miss their personal heartaches — I almost missed my son's today.
As we cleaned out the fridge, and added up the total, toting the heavy sacks to the trash, I told him I am glad that the darn fridge got left open if it meant we got to tell and show him how very loved and cherished he is, even when he makes a mistake. Lost groceries are nothing compared to finding my son's heart again.
Carlee lives in rural Wyoming with her husband who is a pastor and 3 kids. When she's not chasing chickens or homeschooling, she loves to write and coach soccer.
All our opinions are exclusive to Mommy Scene & Green Scene Mom.