I realized I have power when…

…I discovered the power of tenderness, and what it means to have unconditional love and attachment as a mother. For me it comes down to letting someone know that they are more important than the rules, or the spilled milk, or what the other moms at the park think. More important than being on time, or than a broken dish.

My son, Ian, was particularly violent as a little boy. He’s always struggled with deeply negative feelings, and he doesn’t know what to do with them. When he hit or pushed someone, the socially correct thing for me was to make him apologize and give him a stern correction, but he was just getting worse and I found out that other parents were avoiding us. I offered some really desperate prayers about how to help him.

The clear answer I got was the exact opposite of social convention. It was completely embarrassing to me, and often anger-provoking in other mothers; but if Ian did something mean and physically hurtful, I would immediately gather him up in my arms and love him. That had to be my response, and it had to be immediate, that was key.

In fact, I’m going to repeat it: I had to immediately offer him all of my affection and attention instead of frustration and reprimand. Unfortunately, if someone was crying and hurt from the stick my son hit them with, and the other kid’s mom saw me act as if my child was the wounded one in need of comfort, we didn’t win a lot of social points.

I had to immediately offer him all of my affection and attention instead of frustration and reprimand.

Another turning point for me was a family prayer Ian gave. It was the most tender, pleading, sincere prayer I’ve ever heard from a child that age. He didn’t seem 3 or 4 years old; he seemed ageless, his spirit itself speaking purely. The scriptures tell us that “little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned” (Alma 32:23) and that when Christ visited the Nephites, “he did loose [their children’s] tongues, and they did speak unto their fathers great and marvelous things” (3 Nephi 26:14). That was the experience my husband and I had during this prayer as we heard our little boy pour his true, gentle heart out.

I couldn’t ignore the answer I had been given. I knew my son’s feelings were more important than his behavior, and that I could only change what he felt from me and not how he acted. He wasn’t hitting because he didn’t understand it was wrong; he was already trying so incredibly hard not to be ‘bad’. I had been focused on being so absolutely consistent in my discipline, he just felt like there was no loophole, no mercy, that the more he hit the less he deserved love. When he lost control, he instantly knew he had done wrong and was already feeling guilt and self-loathing in his little heart. He was waiting for me to show whether or not I, his mother, thought more of him than that, instead of just a lecture and public shame.

I began to understand that his little heart was amazingly tender and open to love, that the knowledge that he was more important than his mistakes would work miracles. Setting aside anger and frustration and learning to replace it with love and affection right when someone seems least deserving is beyond hard. But it is possible, and powerful. I can testify of that.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Learn how to submit your own Snapshot Portrait here.