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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why Do 4-Year-Olds Want to Run Away from Home?

My 4-year-old, Sebastien, has always been very independent. When he was 7-months-old, he tried to climb up the stairs of our home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He actually had one knee lifted to the bottom step.  If anyone doesn't believe me, we have it on video!  He sat, crawled, and walked early.  Perhaps he wanted to keep up with his older siblings. Whatever the reason, Sebastien let us know from the beginning that he had a strong personality and a desire to do things his way.  From the moment he learned that movement was his greatest asset, Sebastien began planning for his ticket out of the house and into the world.  I'm convinced he came into this world with a scheme that included how to pack his backpack, claim his independence, and run away from home.  He's fortunate that Mommy remembers being a 4-year-old with a plan of her own to run away.  More to follow on that story...

Yesterday, Sebastien became frustrated when I announced bedtime.  He had already played, eaten dinner, taken his bath, read a story, eaten a final snack, drank water, and brushed his teeth.  All the traditionally recommended "transitional" activities were checked off.  The "15,10,5 minute warnings" had been administered with a calm, assertive tone of voice given by yours truly.  That calm voice became a bit louder and more insistent when Sebastien refused to abide by the "parental contract" we had previously negotiated for a beautifully choreographed bedtime routine.  Firm reminders that it was time for us to retire to his bedroom for nightly prayers were less than well received.  

Sebastien decided to take this bedtime situation to the next level by providing a display of emotions worthy of developing his own show for TLC.  As I carried him to his bed, he fussed, cried, and released a verbal thunderstorm of threats.  It went something like this:  "I don't want to go to bed yet.  You're so mean.  I want my Daddy.  No, no, no.  I'm NOT tired!  I want to watch my show.  You NEVER let me watch anything!  You're making me so very sad, Mommy." (Before I continue, I want you to know that this is actually my 4-year-old talking!  He's got a wonderful command for the English language.)  Continuing..."Mommy, I'm going to get all my things together.  I'm going to pack my backpack and go away.  I'm going to ask Daddy to go with me so we can live by ourselves in our own house!" 

Well...I could have chosen to have hurt feelings, cry, yell, or threaten.  But I didn't (This time).  Instead, I told him how much I loved him, that I would miss him, and that it makes me sad too when he doesn't listen to me.  I explained that sleep is important for him to grow, and that sleep is important for Mommy so she doesn't turn into The Incredible Grouchy Mamma.  I remembered how I felt at age four.  My mother told me that I also tried to "run away from home."  I packed all my underwear and a few cookies in a brown paper bag, said good-bye to my mother, and went outside to sit on the curb - because I knew I wasn't allowed to cross the street.  (Funny what you pack at age four.) 

The neighbor ladies all called my mother and asked her what I was doing.  Mom calmly explained that I had run away from home.  They responded with, "But Helen, aren't you concerned that she'll go too far away?"  My mother, in all her wisdom, told them, "No.  I'm watching her from the window. She knows not to cross the street by herself.  Plus, it's almost lunch time, so I'm sure she'll come back soon."   Sure enough, I returned.  My mother asked, "How was your trip, Mary."  I responded, "Oh, just fine."  Mom asked, "Are you hungry for lunch?"  I answered, "Yes, Mommy."  And that was that.  Well done, Mom!

I'd like to think my child would do the same and come back right away.  Sebastien, however, knows how to pack his clothes, food, and a map.  He made his own map for us to get to the pool at our apartment complex this summer.  That's just how he rolls.  So as I continue to parent this strong willed, independence-seeking young man, I say many prayers, take lots of deep breaths, occasionally allow for moments of insanity and emotional outbursts, and offer an abundance of hugs, kisses, and all the love that little boy can tolerate!    I know that one day his need to venture out on his own will come to fruition, and I will miss the many challenges we face together. 

Parenting is my opportunity to gain appreciation for all my parents have done for me and my children.  It offers a glimpse into my past as I remember my own struggles to grow up too fast and experience adventures near and far.  Most of all, I have the gift of seeing things again through the hearts and souls of my children.  I've advised my children to say the following to me if I become too impatient or stressed..."Just love me for who I am, Mommy."  Permission granted!

By the way... Sebastien did finally give me lots of hugs and kisses along with an apology for his behavior.  He wrapped his arm around my arm and fell asleep as we talked about our day together.  It doesn't always go down this well, but at least for last night I felt that my relationship with Sebastien was intact...and that he would put his plans to move out on hold.  Wishing you lots of adventures, challenges, and peaceful resolutions as you travel along life's strange and bumpy roads.  Happy Middle of the Week!