“Pick your battles.”
It’s a phrase we all use in parenting…sometimes things aren’t worth getting fussed up over, and others are worth taking a stand on. I’ve done it myself. And I’ve chosen the wrong battle more than once, and found myself entrenched on a hill I really didn’t care about dying on, but unable to give up the fight for fear of losing face, or respect, or—the mother of all battle-fears– being inconsistent.
Today, I learned that in hosting, it’s not really about picking battles. It’s about being a contentious objector and choosing to not battle at all.
This child has lived a lifetime of battles. I know nothing, really, about anything he has been through. But I do know that to be here in my home means that he likely has parenting/authority PTSD from those past experiences. He has been wounded in battles more intense than anything I could probably imagine. His battles were not about staying up ten minutes later or eating all his peas. Likely, they are far more dangerous and have left scars.
And likely he has been a refugee in others’ wars. He has perhaps been trampled on, or used as a weapon against someone else. For him, perhaps it has never been a series of small battles as much as it has been existing in a war-torn life.
So of course he comes here ready to fight with me, ready for the battle that he knows will come. And he taunts me. Oh, how he taunted me today.
If it wasn’t to be touched, he touched it. If there was a line to not cross, he stood at it, wriggling his toe across it, daring me to say something. When I asked him for something, he actually dangled it in front of my face and then pulled it away from me.
And in those moments, the rote parenting kicks in, and you want to force the issue and take a stand. After all, he needs to…he should…he isn’t…
Except it’s not about the thing. It’s not about teaching him right and wrong and obedience and whatever else. He isn’t testing that. He’s not even testing my consistency. He’s testing to see if my words are true, and how I will react. Will I react the way adults in his life have in the past? Or am I different? He has revealed snippets of himself to me. Did he risk too much? Am I to be trusted? I should have know that today would be harder than yesterday.
Sure there are things that need to be enforced. I made him put on the bike helmet, and I stopped the car when he unbuckled mid-ride. We have house rules and if he breaks one, I remind him, we say “atvieno” (sorry) if necessary, and move on. But there are others that maybe shouldn’t be a battle—is it simply a testing of the situation, a feeling-out of how much he needs to protect himself? Is it a pre-emptive strike to see what weapons I use?
And I have to say that today I failed a lot. I took the bait more than once. I insisted he give me the item he dangled in front of me instead of walking away or redirecting. Maybe I shouldn’t have. Next time, maybe I won’t.
But tonight, I saw why sometimes abstaining from the battle is more important than positioning us as winner-loser competitors. After a rather difficult evening, he decided to do everything he could to defy bedtime and taunt me. Little Man joined in, too. I started to battle, but then I just…stopped. I chose not to win, and not to lose either. I chose to lay down my weapon.
Instead, I went and took a shower. And then I came back in. I could tell he was nervous. He handed over all the toys he was taunting me with. He looked scared. And then I simply sat down and began to read stories. I didn’t even address the issue. At first, he wouldn’t join us, but then I saw his head peeking over the side of the top bunk. By the middle of the first story, he was climbing down the ladder to sit next to me. He quickly retreated at the end to station himself in his trench, but I simply ignored him again and read another story. He came back down and stayed. By the third story, he was picking them out. By the sixth story, he was asleep in his bed. I didn’t win anything. He might not have complied with everything I wanted. But I didn’t lose anything either. He went to sleep with the sound of my voice telling tales instead of issuing orders.
I don’t want to battle with him. I want to be on his side. I want him to know that in the fight that we all go through in life, he has an ally. Not another authority figure to best him into behaving, or to belittle him into compliance. But someone who truly sees HIM as worth fighting for.
I want to disarm us both.
After all, the most powerful person in the universe did not come with flaming sword but as a baby. A child unwanted and unaccepted by society. Nothing good comes from Nazareth. But yet the greatest good of all chose to reside there.
I choose to reside with this child, this one who has been told he is “nothing good.” And I choose to not win the battle, or the war. Instead, I choose to give up the battle in order to fight to win his heart.