Written by Kate Tietje, Contributing Writer

There was one morning early in my third pregnancy when I was still exhausted and I was attempting to sleep just a little more after my kids got up.  I would leave my bedroom door open so I could hear them, and they would go get a snack.  Most of the time this worked out fine — they’d sit in their playroom, or come back and sit next to me in bed and have a snack, and I’d hear them if they needed me.  Within 30 minutes I’d get up and we’d start our day.

But on this memorable morning, they didn’t come back upstairs right away. I kept hearing what I thought was the vacuum downstairs.  I wondered how they could have even turned it on (we don’t keep it plugged in, of course), and I kept telling my 3-year-old to go turn it off.  She said it was off.  I finally got up and went downstairs.  This morning they’d chosen to play in the kitchen.  They’d dragged their “learning tower” (a safe wooden structure for kids to stand in so they can help in the kitchen) over to the sink area, apparently to get bananas.  The sink was plugged and on and overflowing all over the kitchen.  The blender was on (the base alone, not the canister), which was the sound I’d thought was the vacuum.  And the grains I’d had sitting out to sprout had been thrown all over the floor.

My eyes went wide, and I remember screaming, “CLEAN THIS UP, RIGHT NOW!”  Oh, the things children do….

Kids are Creative

They cried.  I screamed a lot.  And we cleaned it up.  Well, I cleaned it up.  They were overwhelmed by the mess and didn’t know where to start or what to do. It wasn’t a good start to our morning, for any of us. They had just been trying to get a snack and I had just been trying to catch a little extra sleep.  I was still feeling exhausted and frustrated.

I can laugh about it now.  And about many of the other ridiculous things they’ve done.  Here’s the message I’ve taken from all of it: kids are creative.  If you don’t entertain them, they will find a way to entertain themselves!

That morning they thought using plastic cups and entire bottle of soap to make bubbles in the sink was good entertainment.  They thought adding some grains to the mix was even better.  And the blender?  They may have hit that by accident because the bananas were behind it.  I wasn’t awake to supervise and help them find appropriate entertainment, so they found a way to stay busy and happy!

Realistically this was my fault.

Changing Our View

It’s so easy to look at kids’ behavior and just feel frustrated and angry. Why do they do these things?  Why do they have to make a mess or be destructive?  One of my children will rip any book or item that she doesn’t like.  Another likes to push and hit people and scream “No!”  (he’s very, very “two” right now.  Although I’m told he actually is nice to the other children in church, he is apparently just mean to his sister!  It’s a sibling thing.)

But if we are going to survive having young children and the creativity that they have, we need to change our mindset.  When my children spill water in their playroom because they are pouring it from cup to cup, I do ask them to help clean up — but I see how they’ve created an awesome game.  If they get magazine bits all over the floor because they’ve been cutting out their favorite pictures, I see that they’re doing an art project.  No matter what they’ve done, I feel happy that they are never bored and that they are able to entertain themselves with anything.  They’ve used their shoes as “people” arguing and playing, and their current favorite “toy” is a set of felt squares!

I’m proud of their creativity.  Sometimes that comes with mess, and I accept that.  I would rather see the situation positively and enjoy and appreciate the games they come up with, rather than get frustrated with the mess they’ve made.

Children Need Us

There have been times when my husband and I have wished our kids would take naps, or play quietly, or otherwise “leave us alone” just for a few minutes so we could finish making dinner or folding the laundry.  This just results in a lot of frustration and repeated pleas on our part, “Please go play already!” while they cry and beg us to talk to them or play with them.

It’s not always possible, of course; sometimes we have to get dinner on the table!  But as much as possible we try to include them in what we are doing, or talk to them while we are doing things. And we try to remember how much they love us and need us, instead of being frustrated that they always need us, or need us right now when we are busy taking care of other things. To push them away constantly is truly to show them and their needs disrespect.

Attitude is Important

All this boils down to, attitude is so important. I’ve been convicted in the last several months that my attitude isn’t so great sometimes, and that I need to change that. If I look at situations negatively, then I get angry and yell at my children and treat them unfairly.  I spread my misery around.

If, instead, I take a minute to take a deep breath and remember how creative and awesome they are, then I can handle the situation calmly and be happy.  I can praise them for their creativity and then direct any necessary clean up calmly.  I can invite them to help me instead of asking them to leave me alone.  I can talk and listen to them.  I can spread joy, at least most of the time!

That’s my new goal: to watch my own attitude and try to spread joy instead of being frustrating.  My children sure aren’t perfect, but neither am I (boy do I need grace!).  And they are truly amazing little people who do make me very happy most of the time. I feel joy more often now and I think they do too.

Join Me in a Challenge

In October I’m issuing a challenge to everyone: work hard on your attitude, to be happy and spread joy no matter what is going on around you. I’ll be posting a linky every Friday so that bloggers can join me if they like.  Each week I will share all the reasons I’ve found to be happy each day, and all the ways I’ve specifically set out to spread joy — no matter what else has happened.  There is always a reason to be happy, even if some days it is only because you have God’s promise of salvation!  And that tomorrow will be another day and another chance.  Will you join me in striving for a positive attitude?

How do you strive to be a purposeful, joyful mother even when it’s tough?

Top image by Franklin Park Library