I am the mom of a two year old. I thought I was getting off easy for the first few months, but then two-and-a-half hit, and all bets were off.
I love my son to pieces, and I have to say I’ve got a pretty wonderful one, probably an “easy” one on the scale of two-year-old-hood. But he is two and he is testing limits, and it is testing me, right down to my core. Granted my emotions might be heightened a little by postpartum hormones, but the anger that sometimes rises in me when he is defiant or disrespectful is no small thing. It’s a little embarrassing, the fact that a small child, whom I love so much, can make me that angry, especially when I see some other moms who don’t seem anywhere near as affected by what is developmentally normal behavior. Sure, some of this parental anger might be normal, at least for some parents. Maybe some of it is even warranted. But I’ve got the growing feeling that there’s at least a part of it that is a signal that something is wrong, not with him but in me. I feel like there is some sort of mindset I am stuck in that is inaccurate or skewed, that there is a shift in perspective that would help the pieces fall into place and enable me to deal with things much more calmly and productively.
I’m sure that some of it must be related to me unwittingly tying my child’s behavior to my aptitude as a parent. This is dangerous, I know, yet it’s so easy to buy into the idea, the lie, that our identity, our worth even, is based on how well we perform our most significant roles. For some people it might be athletic performance or corporate bottom lines or whatever the measuring stick your particular career field uses to measure success. My job is parenthood, and somehow it seems like the stakes are even higher, because this is a little life I’m responsible for, and I feel that weight very greatly. Maybe too greatly at times. I want so badly to be a good mom. And if his misbehavior means I’m not, it’s going to make me frantic and angry.
What we do as parents matters, a lot. The choices we make and how well we love them and what we teach them makes a huge impact. But I’ve learned since becoming a parent and from watching other parents and children more closely that just because a child is behaving badly, it doesn’t necessarily mean the parents are missing the boat. Sometimes they are. But many times they are doing just what they need to be doing, and it’s just this pesky little thing called time that is needed, something we often forget to factor in when we judge other people from afar. Learning is a process, maturation takes time, and people are always going to be works in progress, including kids. The results of good training in any field are not instantaneous, it requires time to catch onto a new concept or develop your muscle or your character, especially when it goes against what is easy. How much more must that be true for kids? So for us to look at a child’s behavior on one particular day and judge them or their parents is ridiculous. Sure, maybe the parent is neglecting to teach them some important lesson (or some lesson we think is important). Or, maybe they are teach-ing them. Maybe the parents have been doing the best they can (imperfectly, of course) to teach the child something that is going to take several weeks, months, years, even a lifetime for the child to master (Have you mastered self-control yet, or generosity, or patience?). What if we are seeing just the briefest snapshot of that process, rather than the end-all-be-all defining moment in time? And isn’t it a terrifyingly huge task, to be responsible for molding and shaping another living, breathing human being, one with a mind, identity, and will of their own which don’t particularly want to be controlled? Maybe we should give parents a break instead of shooting them condescending glares across the grocery aisle?
And maybe all this is just me trying to give myself a break, one that’s sometimes sorely needed. But it touches on another mindset that needs shifting in me in addition to the danger of evaluating myself based on my son’s behavior- that of the danger of evaluating my son based on his behavior. If I’m expecting a lot of myself, I’m expecting even more of him. Perfection, maybe. One of the downsides of being an amazing kid is that people expect more from you. This kid’s been talking in full sentences, counting, wearing big kid underwear, and saying please for everything since before his second birthday. He’s currently trying to sound out words and tell time, and he is reciting nearly a dozen Bible verses. He has a knack for language and a tender heart. He’s a new big brother getting less attention now, but every day with a smile on his face he says, “I like my baby!” and he’s always asking what she needs and what she is thinking about. It’s hard to remember the kid is only two, not the adult I sometimes expect him to be. I expect a lot from him. Especially respectfulness and obedience, which have always been very important to me. But I don’t want him growing up feeling like he was never good enough or couldn’t make a mistake or wasn’t allowed time to go through that learning process but was just required to perform perfectly in those snapshot moments, no questions asked.
It’s grace I’ve been missing. Grace for myself and grace for him.
This past Sunday as I sat in church (struggling to pay attention because I knew I was responsible for managing a two-year-old and a one-month-old by myself while their dad is in Germany), I listened to one of my favorite hymns, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, as the people in the pews in front of me walked up to receive communion. I was pondering some of these very things, and suddenly my ears perked up at a line it felt like I was hearing for the first time.
“Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.”
Thy goodness. Not harshness, pressure, shame, anger, control. Goodness. Hmm. It seemed I was getting a lesson from my Heavenly Father, who is so good to me. He’s been trying to gently lead me this way recently, softly convicting me of my own misbehavior in those moments with my son when emotions are running high and has been bringing to mind verses like
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” -Proverbs 15:1
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:14-15
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” -Ephesians 6:4
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed,he remembers that we are dust.” -Psalm 103:12-14
“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” -Matthew 10:42
Not that He doesn’t care about discipline and obedience, because he’s led me very clearly in that direction before, too. But he hems me in, guiding me this way and that way to keep me on the right path when I’m headed too far one way or the other, and this was confirmation that right now is a time to remember grace, to get better at parenting with compassion.
I can’t say I haven’t gotten impatient or spoken harshly to my son this week. But I’m doing better, trying to relax a bit and love him and gently teach him instead of demanding perfection. And we have by and large been having a good time together, which is much sweeter than when our relationship is in an antagonistic cycle of him acting out and me responding harshly. I’m also trying to have compassion on myself, and rather than judging myself on a snapshot moment of my child’s behavior or my response, I’m letting myself be a person- and parent-in-progress, too.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” -2 Corinthians 12:9a
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” -Isaiah 40:11