This is part of a series called My Practices of Mothering.
The practice of assigning positive intent is, as Fancy Nancy would say, just a fancy way of saying “believe the best.” I try to make my starting point for the day a belief in their goodness, in their love for each other and for our family, in the work that we have already done together towards wholeness.
So when things go pear-shaped, instead of assuming that they are manipulative little buggers out to get their way and rule us all, I choose to believe that their heart is as much for me as mine is for them.
A small example: When Joe was quite a small toddler, I met a scene from a mother-horror movie when I went to wake him from a nap. There was excrement everywhere – on the walls, on the sheets, in his hair. He was rubbing it with his stuffed animals, spreading it everywhere. Part of me wanted to holler at him: WHAT THE CRAP ARE YOU DOING? (Pun unintended, I assure you.) This was unbelievably gross, he had probably pulled that diaper off himself and was now gleefully making a mess on purpose, painting with it. But then I realised that he was sick, his diaper had been insufficient for the experience and he was actually making an attempt to clean it up. His intent was positive even if the results were, um, absolutely disgusting.
I try to operate from the standpoint that they want to be good and my job is to help them navigate, with grace, the mistakes and missteps that naturally come with the enormous job of growing up to love God and love people well.
I enjoy mothering so much more if I believe we’re all on the same side. It’s not us vs. them in the war of the family. My role here is to help them learn and so if I try to assume that they truly don’t know yet or are still figuring it out. (But even if they are trying to be bad, even if it is manipulation, few people are not disarmed by innocence. And that includes my tinies. If they do something wrong on purpose, gentleness goes a long way to bringing them back around to right living, reconciling them with us and God, much farther than bellowing and isolation and fury.)
When I assign positive intent, I have much more grace, patience and gentleness to offer and I believe that they can sense this change of perspective. It moves us from adversaries to partners or co-operators in their wholeness. But, on the other hand, if I operate from the starting point that they are out to take a mile if I give an inch that is one sure way to make the days very, very, very long.
I enjoy mothering when I believe and hope and love in their personhood. I enjoy my tinies when I notice and talk about the things that are noble, pure, beautiful and good about them. I enjoy mothering when I remember that they really, truly don’t know everything yet, that most of my expectations come with development, and my job is to really, truly, teach them well.
They will learn the big nouns of love, grace, forgiveness, mercy and peace in the way that I handle the small verbs and actions of our life together. And so will I. (I have so much to learn.)
So even if the action is wrong or infuriating, unless otherwise proven, assume that their heart is to love, to please, to help and learn the right way from you.
(Sidenote: I admit that this Practice of Mothering is actually a Practice of Living for me. It’s not exclusive to my tinies and our relationship; in fact, its come in very handy in my dealings with grown-ups.)
Innocent as doves, my luv. Wise as serpents.