Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tips on Loving Your Toddler When They're "Bad"

There is an unspoken rule in our culture when raising kids: they should be good.

They should have manners.

They should get a cupcake if they behave.

They should be obedient. Immediately.

But most importantly, they should make us look good. And if they don't, they better not get away with it.

This list of "should's" is even more difficult with toddlers. Believe me, I know.

Our culture subliminally preaches that good behavior in our kids should always be rewarded and that bad behavior should always be met with correction. I am all for correction and rewards- but is that being a Jesus-led parent? Is that how God deals with us? Is He this cosmic-Karma parole office handing out bags of money and beauty to the good adults and cancer and poverty to the bad adults?

No. He's not.

Instead, I believe God is the only ultimate good. The way the chips fall in our life may be partially a result of our actions- but some of us are dong life well and are still standing in the shallow end of blessing. So if God doesn't deal with us like that why should we deal with our kids that way?

Before you start quoting "Dare to Discipline" to me, let me say this is in no way an anti-discipline rant. Quite the opposite. God disciplines those he loves. (Proverbs 3:12) So training a crazy-pants toddler requires all the sanctity of consistency we can muster. But our motives, and our quest to be like Christ, leads us into a whole new realm of parenting preference. We must defer to Him to get the right combination of grace and gall. 

The reality of childhood behavior flies in the face of what our culture tells us our children should be. We are not dealing with angels who coo and giggle and hold your hand and give you butterfly kisses every moment of the day. We are dealing with sinners.

Oh my Lord, did she just call a small child a sinner?


But isn't there some kind of age of accountability? I mean they are just kids, they don't know what they are doing.

I agree. They have NO idea what they are doing. They are acting purely on instinct. And it's the same instinct that caused our first mother and father to believe God had hidden true joy from them behind door number 3.

That very same instinct of distrust is present in my 2 1/2 year old son when I am trying to give him something good. Why would any child refuse to get in the car when I am promising a trip to the park? Because he doesn't want his playtime with the almighty kitchen ladle to be interrupted. Oh man, how often I have been distracted by the kitchen ladle when there was so much more to be discovered.

I have never been so aware that we are born fallen people until I had my son.

This week was a hard one for me. Not only did my son break out in the most ridiculous case of raised hives from a new cleaner that I bought (it has corn and coconut extract apparently), but he was pulled out of his new soccer class by his father for refusing to follow directions. This isn't the first time he has wanted to do his own thing- our preschool preview echoed the same refrain. My son doesn't want to be 'Another Brick in the Wall' (Pink Floyd didn't know they had an anthem for hell-raising toddlers, did they?), and so I am looking for ways to embrace that independent nature without berating his spirit.

My conclusion: It's hard. I lose my temper. I am prone to envy. I am fallen. I am a sinner too.

I find negative thoughts controlling my attitude. Why can't he just behave like other kids? Why does he like to push boundaries instead of coloring inside the lines? As a kid I LOVED to color inside the lines. The picture turns out BETTER THAT WAY! 

But does it?

God has been teaching me a little something about loving kids the way He does. 

I am led to the Parable of the Vineyard Workers in Matthew. In it, Jesus tells a story about a vineyard owner who hires a group of workers for the day whom agree to get paid a flat rate.  Then as the day goes on the owner adds 3 more groups of workers who start their work 3 hours later than the previous group hired before them. At the end of the day everyone gets paid the same amount.

Well, as you can imagine the earliest morning workers are none too pleased. They wanted a bigger cut of the cake! They wanted sprinkles! They wanted at least a goodie bag! But their reward wasn't based on behavior- it was based upon the initial agreement. It was based on God's generosity to the late laborers. The ones who showed up late to the game were still considered key players.

Matthew 20  

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Wait a minute. 

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first? That doesn't seem FAIR. That doesn't seem like the way the moral code should work.

If the early workers worked harder and longer they should get MORE. 

But we all get the same- we get Him.

This is what makes our God so amazing. He doesn't play by our standards of work vs. reward. Even the criminal on the cross next to him was given a passport to paradise without putting in 40 hours a week for 45+ years. God bled the entry stamp. He does that for our kids. He does that for us. 

So while I will still struggle with wanting to create an obedient child for the simple reason of ease, I have to remember that I am just the vessel. I am not the savior. I can not save my child. I can not make him obey. I can only pray that God will reveal himself to my son through my correction and my love-- but whether he is the kid who is saved when he is 5 like the early morning laborer or the criminal on the cross who doesn't show up to the party until three in the afternoon- that story isn't mine to write. 

I can be the narrator. I can be the example. I can be the loving hug, kiss, and cuddle of Christ- but I can't make him good. As much as my culture tells me I can. 

Sally Clarkson shared the prayer that she prayed over her kids in the book Desperate that I wanted to share, "God you have access to my children's hearts, souls, and minds. Please, through your Holy Spirit, make the life of Christ real to each of them. Lord help them to have a desire to obey and to learn self-control. Please show me how to be the mom you created me to be."

God bled the entry stamp for every bad boy and girl in the world. 

And so the pressure is off. Doesn't that feel better?

In love,

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