Friday, September 13

Lessons from the Terrible Twos

I am fairly certain that the specific events, situations, and phases we experience in life help shape the type of people we become. I have written before (here and here) about times that I believe God has used my current circumstances to teach me lessons and make me more like him. I really believe that the different seasons we go through (whether they are hard times, big milestones, new adventures, joyful moments, or just everyday monotony) are opportunities for us to improve ourselves, to grow, and ultimately to learn more about God and his relationship to us.

Winter is nothing, in comparison ;)
The trial joyful venture Blaine and I are living through right now is toddlerhood. The terrible twos are upon us and are threatening to break us at every turn. I thought I hated the newborn phase... that is a cakewalk. Give me thirty newborns over one 2 1/2 year old any day. 

No. Not really. Don't give me thirty newborns. Ever. Please. 

I just went into a really dark place thinking about multiple newborns at one time.

Anyway, I digress. I knew today wasn't going to be the best of days when Brock woke up at 6:40 this morning. The child used to sleep til 9:00 every day, but once his brother was born and he moved to a toddler bed, he now apparently wants to wake before the sun rises every morning. I was prepared for a difficult day. I was not prepared for a day filled with epic proportions of the terrible twos. Whining and screaming and crying (a little from both of us) and disobeying and defying and flipping out for no reason at all. That's what our day has looked like. And all of it before nap time! But during, quite possibly, the one peaceful moment we had at lunch time, I had a little revelation that kind of grew and grew in my mind (and eventually turned into this blog post).

A little voice said to me, "You are often like this toddler, Shelby." Not an audible voice. I'm not crazy (I don't think). Just kind of a thought that popped in there. I have been praying for patience and wisdom and calmness all day long, in my head and out loud. I have been praying for the past three weeks that we would love Brock well even through this difficult phase, that we would guide him and help him learn, that Blaine and I would be slow to anger and compassionate and understanding but consistent and right in our discipline. I swear it seems the more I have prayed, the more I have been tested and my patience has been stretched to impossible limits. But today, I looked at my defiant, disobedient, overly irrational, emotional little toddler and got a small glimpse of how I might look to God.

These are the things I want to say to Brock as a toddler or as a grown man, the things I want him to understand. But each one of these also seemed to be a truth that God wanted me to see about myself and about who he is. So these are the lessons (for Brock and for myself) from the terrible twos:

  1. I am far more patient and merciful toward you than you deserve.    If you were not my child and if I didn't have this deep, abiding, unconditional love for you, I would probably tolerate a lot less of this nonsense and willful disobedience. My mercies are new every thirty minutes in my responses to you. There are some moments (like when you threw the tantrum of all tantrums because I put a shirt on you) that the only thing that keeps me calm and reasonable and not murderous is the fact that you are my son and I care deeply about you and love you more than you know.

  2. It's okay to have bad days; It is not okay to treat others badly on your bad days.    Not every day is going to go well. Frustrating things will happen to you that you can't control. You may not feel great every day. Sickness, sadness, and crappy stuff will come. And I don't expect you to always have a happy face painted on. I don't expect you to fake your emotions and pretend you feel something that you don't actually feel. I want you to be real and genuine. But you do need to understand that you are not the only person in this world. You are not the only person in this family. There are others who have needs that must be met, even as you are having your bad day. There are others who need you to show mercy and compassion and patience toward them, even if everything isn't going your way. And there are probably others who are having much worse days than you are. So, on those bad days, stop focusing on yourself and see what you can do to make someone else's bad day better.

  3. Patience and whining do not go together.    We tell you all the time to be patient. Sometimes I can't give you something the very moment you ask for it. Sometimes there are preparations that have to be made (like when I have to find a clean cup to put your milk in) or things that have to be put together (like that awful toy that I thought would come out of the box looking like it did in the picture but took an hour to build) or situations that are more urgent than yours (like your baby brother screaming his head off because he hasn't eaten in three hours). In these times, when you can't have what you want right when you want it, please know that patience is going to do a lot more than whining will. If I tell you to be patient, I want you to know that I have heard your request and I am going to act on it, but in the meantime I need you to wait contentedly and peacefully. Wait on me without whining or complaining or questioning or being angry or pitching a fit. Wait for me to get you what you need, and wait with a good attitude because if you are whining, you are not being patient.

  4. My discipline comes from my love for you.    I know you feel like you get in trouble for everything (please refer back to number 1 though for the truth). I want you to know that I care about you and I love you and those are the reasons I create rules and boundaries and why you receive discipline. My love for you makes me want to help you learn how to be a good person, a loving person, a person who other people enjoy and want to be around. My love for you makes me persevere in my efforts to discipline you rather than handing you over to a pack of wild animals to fend for yourself. Sometimes the discipline is to develop your character (like when you have to share your toys with others). Sometimes the discipline is to correct your bad or wrong behaviors (like when you get a spanking for screaming at your parents). Sometimes the discipline is to teach you new things (like when you have to sit still and listen to instructions before you get to do something fun). And sometimes the discipline is to protect you from harm (like when I tell you not to stand in that chair that is looking wobbly and precariously close to falling over). The discipline is for different reasons at different times, but I want you to know that it always comes from a place of love and care for your well-being.

  5. Your way isn't always the best way.    I know that's hard to understand. I know you think you've got it all figured out. I know you don't always want to do things the harder way, or the not fun way, or the tedious, boring, tiresome way. But sometimes the way I tell you to do things is better for you. It's a better plan, even if it doesn't look as appealing or as satisfying as what you have in mind.

  6. You can trust me and my intentions for your life.    On the differences between your way and my way of doing things, I want you to be able to trust that my plan is for your good. I know you would rather eat five bags of gummy bears for dinner than anything I put on your plate, but I need you to realize that I know a little more than you and that I don't want you up at midnight puking sticky, half-digested gummy nastiness all over your sheets. I want something better than that for you. If I don't allow you to do something, it's generally because I am looking out for you. If I tell you not to run through the house with that butter knife, it's not because I don't want you to ever have any fun. It's because I don't want you to lose an eye when you inevitably trip over the dog or run into the kitchen cabinets. I have the best of intentions for your life, and you can trust that I am looking out for you.

  7. You don't have to worry.    When you are hungry or tired or cold or sick, I feed you and give you a chance to rest and provide you warm clothes and get you medicine. When you have a need, I have always done and will always do my best to fulfill it. Remember last week when you didn't feel well and I held you and comforted you and gave you ibuprofen? Remember this morning when you said you wanted breakfast and you didn't have to worry about whether or not there would be food to eat or whether I would actually give it to you? Well, keep those things and all the others in your mind when you start to get upset and impatient and distressed about something you need. I always do my best to take care of you, and you have no need to worry.

  8. I love you.    This is probably not even necessary to say since it has been mentioned in just about every other lesson above, but I'm going to repeat it one more time in case you didn't get it. I love you. You are a part of me. You stole a serious portion of my heart when you were created almost three years ago, and you continue to amaze me every day with the things you learn and the person you are becoming. Everything I do for you, every action I take, every lesson I teach you, and everything I give or withhold or take away is done out of a deep, incomprehensible, unimaginable love I have for you. You are mine, and I want you to know that although I am not always pleased with your behavior and I am sometimes exhausted and frustrated by your inability to do the right thing or remember the lesson I have tried to teach you 2,000 times already, there is nothing you can ever do to earn or lose my love. You are and always will be my child, and I love you.
I am, by no means, remotely close to being as patient, merciful, wise, just, and good as God the creator of the universe, but if I can feel these things toward my children (even in an imperfect, limited sense), how much more are they likely to be true about God the creator of my soul and very being. Now, I need to try to start acting less like a toddler and more like an obedient child who brings honor and glory and joy to her Father. 

Interesting, refining process this whole parenthood thing can be.

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