I’d have to say parenting has been the most challenging part of my life so far. I think most people would say that. It has been difficult at various stages for all sorts of different reasons. For example, a few weeks ago Jared and I were trying to have a conversation after dinner while Ethan was playing. Then I heard a small voice coming up from behind me saying, “I want to hurt you…,” and before I knew it I was clubbed on my arm with a plastic golf club. And just because it’s plastic doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. I was emotionally exhausted that day and physically tired with my 8 month pregnant self, so the next natural reaction was to go to my room and cry. I just felt sorry for myself and my arm genuinely hurt. I had a big red sore spot on my upper arm and thought I could read “little tikes” or something like that branded on my skin. Jared took care of the discipline side of the situation (major rule: no hurting mommy, especially with golf clubs, especially while pregnant). It’s times like this that I tend to dwell on. Ethan has been struggling with self-control and anger (as many 2 and 3 year olds do, I’m sure, but he’s ranks pretty high on the total meltdown scale) but it seems that he smells my weaknesses and knows the best time to lash out. There are way too many more stories like this that make me laugh after the fact but have slowly started to dominate my view of him, being a mom, and family life. Survival has become the daily goal instead of being thankful. Fear of this small little person and what the next 10 hours hold until Daddy comes home start to take over my mind and heart instead of finding ways to enjoy the day. Thus the need for celebration in my life. All of this has been going on while I’m pregnant and inviting yet another child into our world, which has made it hard to look forward to. But recently there has been a change in heart in both Jared and I that has helped give us a new perspective and joy in parenting.
We’ve been talking a lot about what it means to practice thankfulness in our lives. How it doesn’t come naturally to dwell on what is good but so much easier (especially with small children) to complain about how they thwart our schedules and make even the easiest task difficult. I noticed when I went to the park one day how most of the conversations were about how difficult children are, how tired they make moms and dads, and how everyone is trying to survive each day just to start over again. It is all around us, a negative or overwhelming feeling that is associated with being a mom. I’ve read some really good books lately that have talked about the need to celebrate life in all its ordinary hours, to be intentional about thanking God throughout the day, and to not give in to a hopeless feeling about life as a mom-slave. Jared and I have seen that if we are going to be parents who love our children well, we have to work hard at being grateful. We have to talk about what God is doing in us, giving us the children we need to grow to be the people he has called us to become. We need to remind ourselves at dinner what good we see in Ethan, in what ways he is growing for the better. We need to celebrate any signs of maturity. We need to laugh more, and remember that our days are numbered. Instead of seeing Ethan as an angry little person, we need to see him as someone who is struggling with anger but that it doesn’t define him. He loves music. He loves to dance. He likes playing guitars and wearing funny hats in the kitchen while we sing Beatles’ songs. He likes to make funny faces. He gives really sweet hugs and kisses. He even told Jared one time that he was asking Jesus for help because he was angry at Daddy. That is success… not that Ethan perfectly behaves but that he is learning to ask for help and forgiveness from our gracious God. Instead of telling people about my son who sneak attacks me with golf clubs, I can more faithfully portray him as someone who is much more like me than I think. He laughs & enjoys life while also messing up a lot, especially when he’s hungry or tired (which I can totally relate to). And this is where our hope for him is the same as our hope for us as adults, that God loves and delights to help us in our weaknesses. Our hope that God is always at work in us, helping and changing us to be more like Jesus. I’ve been looking for books and articles on how to “handle” the strong willed child… how many times to spank, or what other tactics I should use to reign in a wild child who loses it to such a degree that I have to break out ultimate fighting or WWF moves just to pin him down. But God was so gracious to me in the past few weeks to give me simple and somewhat mysterious wisdom. I was reading in the Psalms how he gives strength to the weary, wisdom to those who ask, help for people like me. So I just prayed for help. I prayed for strength to love Ethan as his mom in the midst of Ethan raging against me. I asked for wisdom to know how to handle whatever specific situation came up that day. And everyday I’ve been trying to pray these simple prayers as we go through the day. Ethan and I were in the car when he started a fit, and as he was screaming, “I want to hurt you!” I just kept praying for God’s protection over me. Not just my physical protection- although I pray for that sometimes- but really protecting my heart from despairing or giving up on the whole parenting thing. And I have been strengthened and encouraged by God. And I’ve started to see that those bad times aren’t all day or everyday, and the times in between them are really fun and joyful. Before I couldn’t enjoy it because I feared so much what he was or wasn’t going to do at naptime, or when he didn’t get his way. But I feel less fearful, more taken care even as a mom, and protected by a God who loves me and will be my help. It’s funny because it’s not some easy step-by-step parenting program but a daily trust and dependence on a big and powerful and loving God. I couldn’t really explain it any more than that to someone or tell them “how” to do it or how to make it “work.” But it’s a position of the heart that has changed and an expectation that God is at work in my family, and I can look for evidence of his redemption in my son’s heart and mine. Just yesterday Ethan said he wanted to hurt me while I was driving, and I asked him why. He told me it was because he didn’t want to leave his friend’s house and I made him. I talked to him about how he wouldn’t want others to hurt him and I could tell he was thinking and processing. He had a Gatorade bottle in his hand and I knew we were at a crossroads of self-control… would the Gatorade bottle be chunked at me while driving? Ethan held the bottle and then… he decided not to throw it. CELEBRATE!! God is at work in my little son’s heart! Not that it won’t happen in the future, but for that moment he practiced self-control. He ended up falling asleep within minutes of that conversation and I knew that we were alike… having difficulty controlling our emotions when tired. But he is growing and we are celebrating that growth. At night I told Ethan that I love him because he’s mine. I don’t love him because he behaves or is cute (although he is very cute) and conversely love him less because he misbehaves. Simply being mine is enough for me to love him forever and nothing could ever change that. And I’ve learned that through my relationship with God, that he loves me because I am his and nothing changes that. I’m redeemed, forgiven through Jesus, bought at a price and forever loved. And that makes me want to live a life where I don’t attack or throw stuff at people. Maybe that will be Ethan’s story, too.
So in keeping with a celebration theme at our house, we have bought brownie and cake mixes to try to celebrate after dinner on a given night what we are thankful for. We are trying to play more music and dance in the kitchen more. I decided to bring my camera to the park the other day with Ethan so I could look for things that I love about him- the funny faces he makes or the way he loves to play chase and give me great big hugs. The pictures of him in the car are reminders to me of the good gift he is to my life. That very day he kicked and screamed when we left the park. But that temper tantrum doesn’t erase the laughs and fun we had running around and him showing me all his different facial expressions. And that is life… joy mixed with difficulty. It’s easy to just focus on the difficulty but so much more rewarding and fuller to see both. So posted in the above picture are Ethan’s new favorite facial expressions… angry, sad, happy, sleepy, and loving on his new stuffed animal, Dolphie. And I’m learning to be thankful for each one of these faces. Ethan, if for some reason I save these posts and you read them when you are older, know that God has been good to us through it all and I love you.