Thoughts from the Trenches of Toddlerhood

We are in the trenches these days with our firstborn. He is two and a half years old, full of curiosity and spunk and as stubborn as all get-out. For every sweet, special moment there are many, many tantrums and sharing talks. Contrary and oppositional are two words that come to mind. Lots of crying and stomping and funny little outbursts on his part and disciplining and reiterating and reassuring and holding on our part these days. One of Collin's favorite expressions, which lands him into trouble over and over again, is "Don't say no (to) me." Yes, he is parroting back what we say to him. Not cute. As I write this, Nick is upstairs talking him down from the rafters.

I don't know why this surprises me. They are called the terrible twos for a reason. One thing I know, what today seems like difficult, headstrong tendencies will be, given some harnessing and good choices on his part, the very character traits will someday make him a leader. Just praying I start to see the latter sooner than later.

I'm learning it's hard work walking the line as parents. It would be much easier to let things slide or swing the opposite direction and try to use anger and fear to control our kids (because, believe you me, their behavior can be angering), but neither of these approaches get to the heart of the issue. By letting them do whatever they want we deny them the mercy of learning respect and how to deal with consequences in the arena of childhood, where the stakes aren't as high as they are in the real world. Conversely, by bulldozing and controlling, we teach them to respond to us out of fear, not out of a desire to maintain relationship and trust. In the end we will have done them a great injustice if we do not enter into their situations willing to sift through the issues and walk these growing pains out alongside them.

Isn't that the way God parents us? He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. He disciplines those he loves, yet keeps no record of wrong against us. He is not surprised when we sin, but graciously welcomes us back over and over. He does not force us to love and obey Him. How many times do I wish I could just force Collin to be a certain way!?

He also does not take it personally when we choose poorly or walk away from Him. I'm pretty sure God would never say, "You are a disgrace to our family!" I think it can be hard not to feel as if our children are little representations of us. It's embarrassing when you have to drag them down the hall at preschool because they refuse to stop playing with the toy farm. It's not fun when they yell at another child or refuse to share. It feels personal. It feels like everyone is watching and judging our parenting skills based on those brief moments. And guess what? They might be! I, for one, am all too guilty of thinking I knew what it took to parent a child before having children of my own or thinking our sweet little angel baby would never talk back to us. Eating lots and lots of previous thoughts these days;) But, ultimately, I don't want the weight of people's perceived opinions of mom and dad on the shoulders of my kiddos. That is not a sustainable way to good behavior, that does not produce a lasting heart change.

Not having a guaranteed reward for our hard work as parents is hard. One thing I am learning is this- Even if we did absolutely everything right, if we read every parenting book on earth and only fed them the purest of organic food and successfully shielded them from certain negative influences while allowing others in order for them to develop backbone and taught them to play the harp and help old ladies cross the street and took them out to feed the poor on weekends, we still would not be promised successful children-- that they would love us and Jesus and make an positive impact in the world. The sweet baby you hold in your arms, night after night might end up in jail for killing someone someday. We have no gaurantees.

I am constantly blessed by several dear older saints in the faith whose children have walked away from God. They do not give up on their kids, just like the Prodigal son's father never stopped watching for him, but they are also not consumed with what they could have done differently. They are lovingly confident that he who began a good work in their children will see it through unto completion. I am challenged to have faith like this!

The best father of all, God, has scores upon scores of wayward children who have and are continually making poor choices, sinning and distancing themselves from Him and that does not mean He could have done something differently or better. He paid the ultimate price by dying on a cross for them-- taking upon himself the punishment for their sins. Who are these wayward children? We are those wayward children! We have free will. We are free to walk away and just as free to run to Him. If we weren't free to rebel, then how true would our "choice" to love Him be?

You know what else is hard? Realizing that even if all of our wonderful work "paid off" and they did turn out to be Rhodes scholars and curers of cancer who passionately love Jesus, we couldn't take the full credit for that either. Why? Because it's not all about us... but man is it easy to swell up with pride when things are going well!

It's not about how awesome or horrible we are as parents. While this is frustrating, because boy do we invest a lot of blood sweat and tears and prayers into our little ones, it's also liberating. It's liberating to not have to go at this parenting thing alone. It's liberating that we are partnering with God-- stewarding the little lives He has given us.

By shifting the focus off of ourselves we help our children recognize their need for a savior outside of mommy and daddy or themselves. They will see God's character displayed when their earnest, yet flawed, parents seek to be like God, not pretend to be God. The greatest gift we can give them is modeling that it is all about Jesus-- that we need Him just as much as they do! That we make mistakes and fall just like they do and this does not change God's love for us, and likewise their mistakes do not change our love for them.

So, in the meantime, we do not give up sowing into the soil of their hearts and lives. We do not abandon them to their own, inherently sinful nature, we discipline in love, we reinforce positive behaviors and allow natural consequences to happen, we continually seek to get to the heart of the matter and parent in grace in the efforts to maintain relationship and trust. We walk the tension of holding fast and lightly to what God has given us in these babies and then we rest. We rest in the knowledge that we have the most perfect example of a parent in our Heavenly Father who will guide us when we do not know what to do, who will refresh us when we are weary and who will restore all things in His time. And when the ornery toddler finally gives up fighting and falls asleep in a heap on the bed. You kiss their cheek, close the door and go downstairs to laugh about it with your spouse because this too shall pass... Until they are teenagers!

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