For a while now I’ve been thinking about how Bella seems to get overlooked or pushed to the side more often than Ben or Sophie. Maybe it’s inevitable that in any family with more than two children parents will feel that they are not able to spread their attention evenly. Somehow one child is easier to overlook or harder to spend time with. They tend to get lost in the shuffle.
It was reassuring to me when Kate Wicker wrote about how she sometimes feels her middle child can get lost in the shuffle:
Homeschooling means Madeline is guaranteed some time with me. It’s her attention insurance. Mary Elizabeth is still nursing. This is our time together. But Rae, our middle child, sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. I fear I say, “In one minute” more to her requests.Yet, as much my mother’s heart knew what she needed, I wasn’t sure how I was going to provide it to her with our busy schedule. There’s only one of me, and there doesn’t always seem enough to go around as is. This morning I found my answer. She wakes up early like I do while the rest of the house slumbers. I like to think of this as my time, but maybe this needs to be our time. Maybe I need to forget myself at least for the time being and serve my child and God’s will rather than my own.
(Do go read the rest of Kate’s piece it’s got so much more about prayer and death to self and trusting God. I feel rather guilty for cherry picking it to serve as my own personal writing prompt.)
So I don’t suffer from ‘Catholic-guilt,’ just Mommy guilt. I second-guess myself a lot as many mothers do. Are the children studying enough? Are they polite enough? Do they watch too much television? Are they eating enough veggies? Are we doing too many activities? If any other mom talked the way that I do to myself, I would tell her to give herself a break…
[. . .]
I couldn’t help but contrast life with one baby and then with the little crew that I have now….
First baby- Daddy comes to the doctor’s appointments
Fourth baby- Daddy knows you can handle it and keeps working to pay the co-pay, deductible and percentage
I feel the mommy guilt too. Worrying about which kid is being neglected because I can’t be everywhere and do everything. However, every time I see someone write about someone getting lost in the shuffle, it always seems they are worried about the youngest or the middle child. For me it’s my oldest. I often worry I’ve pushed her to grow up and be self reliant too fast. She’s the one who can (sort of) understand when I say “not now” or ask her to compromise. So she has to make all the compromises. The little ones need books read so they can go to sleep. She’s given up on her nap and is more content to flip through her books on her own and so when I’m bone tired and desperately want a nap or even when I’m just feeling that introvert buzz and am craving solitude and to crawl into my room and shut the door I skip reading to her. I see the disappointment on her face as I tell her not now or limit it to just one book. And yet I can hardly keep my eyes open. Something has to give and all too often, it’s Bella.
So I got that far in my musings and then they took a sharp turn. As I pondered further, I began to realize that really where Bella gets “lost” goes much deeper than that and maybe points somewhere else than just to my own limitations. The thing is it’s not just about there only being so much of me to go around to three kids and Bella being the most self-reliant. There’s something else going on too.
When Bella asks to cuddle with me, to snuggle up with a book, I find myself searching for excuses. Much more so than if Ben or Sophie makes the same request. Bella is not restful to cuddle with. She can’t sit still. She squirms, kicks, elbows me. And it’s not just me. I see Dom and Theresa reacting similarly. Sure, Ben and Sophie can sometimes get me with a badly placed elbow… all three kids seem to have that knack of leveraging themselves on my belly in an uncomfortable way. But once Ben or Sophie is settled, they sit calmly, quietly in the crook of my arm, rapt with the book. It is restful to have one of them next to me. Not so with Bella. So she gets “lost”, missing out on the mommy time she needs and craves, the cuddle, the book being read to her, the hugs and affection. I push her away and keep her at arm’s length unconsciously because I’m not a comfortable with her being closer.
And so lately I’ve been seeing something different when I watch her. I’m seeing how many of her behaviors that I assumed she’d grow out of, things that she did but I ignored because she was only two or only three, are things that Sophie and Ben don’t do. More and more Bella reminds me of someone else… of my sister. More and more she seems to be exhibiting classic signs of ADHD.
For the longest time I figured Bella’s inability to stay in her chair through dinner was just because she was a toddler. Toddlers don’t sit still. But now I see Sophie staying in her chair until she is done eating while Bella seems to need to stand up and move around between every bite. Even Ben seems to have longer attention span at times than Bella does. Bella wanders off during lunch or dinner and then when I try to move on to nap time or bedtime she’s suddenly HUNGRY. Sure that happens occasionally to Sophie or Ben. But with Bella it seems chronic. A daily battle.
Bella gets distracted on her way to her room to get dressed. I find her sitting on her bed with a book. Then I gently redirect her. A minute later I need to redirect her again. And then again. And then again. She gets caught up in playing between taking her underwear off and putting on a new pair. I ask her to put a toy away and then come back for further instructions and I find that not only has she not put the toy away but she’s pulled out a dozen more. She can never remember that she’s supposed to get into the car seat and click her buckles on. We have to remind her again and again as she gets distracted by what the neighbor is doing or a car passing by or some thought in her head.
Oh I know these things happen to all small children; but I’m starting to see it as part of a greater pattern.
Losing My Cool
What’s even more disturbing is seeing a pattern of growing impatience on my part. More yelling and snapping:
Why can’t you do this? It’s so easy!
Did you forget again?
Bella! Sit down!
Bella! Pay attention!
And sometimes I feel like Dom follows my lead and so does my sister. As I grow more agitated and escalate my responses, so do they. I create the atmosphere and they breath it in and get caught up in my mood. Or some days it seems that I follow theirs. When someone else is aggravated with her, it’s all too easy to pick up on that even if I was previously feeling quite patient with her. I was fine with what Bella was doing but because Dom is getting irritated, I start to snap at her too.
And yet she is so dear to me. Such a sweet, smart, thoughtful child. She truly wants to be helpful (though she also does have a stubborn streak—get’s that from me!) and doesn’t mean to be aggravating. She just is… scattered. Flaky. Dreamy. Pick your word.
I want to break out of the habit of impatience and snapping and yelling. But I’m not really sure how.
Where to Now?
I’m starting to see that homeschooling might bring special challenges. I’m wondering how I can best address her particular needs and meshing them with those of the family at large. I want to cherish her good qualities while finding a balance we can live with in terms of addressing her difficulties with things that need to get done. For example, it doesn’t work for her to wander away at dinner. We all need to eat at the same time and then get the kids ready for bed. So how can we find ways of keeping her focused on eating that don’t devolve into yelling? I’m not so good at addressing concrete questions like that. I’m not sure where to begin. I just know that I’m going to have to start seriously considering a different approach because what we’ve been doing up till now is not working.