Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tantrums of the Terrible Two's... and other life lessons

Recently, I feel like I have been floundering in the sea of parenting. It seems to me that just as I find my footing, another wave comes crashing in and takes my feet right out from under me.

I just have to keep telling myself that it's only a wave and that, if I can keep my head above water, I might actually be able to enjoy the ride. (Anybody got a float out there?)

As this little person, who was once so helpless and needy, begins to approach the third year of her life, she suddenly has an opinion... about everything.

"Mommy, I wanna eat pee-budder bed" (interpreted peanut butter and bread)

"No, sweetie, that's what you had for breakfast. You are going to have chicken and peas for lunch."

"NO! Mommy! I wanna eat pee-budder bed! PEE BUDDER BEEEEEDDD!"

"No, Chloe! Chicken and peeeeeas! CHICKEN AND PEEEEEEEEEEEES!"

(Ok, maybe I don't really respond like that. But maybe, hypothetically speaking, I feel like it on the inside.)

All summer, this struggle has turned into a never-ending battle of wills. And finally - FINALLY! - a couple weeks ago, everything fell into place.

"Ok, Chloe, bath time." (Picture me wincing, waiting for the ensuing battle to begin.)

"Yes ma'am, mommy."

*double take*

What was THAT? Did my little girl just say "Yes Ma'am" without being told?!?!

Now those of you up North might not get the significance of those two little words, but down here in the Peach State, every polite child says "Yes ma'am" "No ma'am" "Yes sir" and "No sir" to parents, family, teachers, and strangers. It's just good manners ya'll, and from the time Chloe could put two words together, I have reminded her that "yes ma'am" is the proper response when I ask her to do something.

And here, after months and months of struggling, it was like angelic music to my ears.

Over the coming days, as she was becoming more and more regular in her polite responses and instant obedience, I was becoming more and more aware of the fact that she has so few choices in her life. She's doesn't get to choose what she eats or when she drinks. She doesn't get to decide what time she goes to bed or wakes up. When I leave the house, she leaves the house. When I say bath time, she takes a bath. She can voice her requests, but I ultimately make her every decision.

And I was feeling a bit like, perhaps, I'm not preparing her to make decisions herself. Maybe she needs to make some choices on her own. So I began to ask her, instead of tell her.

"Chloe, would you like oatmeal or grits for breakfast?"

"Do you want a snack before you go night-night?"

"Would you like to put your shoes on or go bare foot?"

In the beginning, it was going ok, perhaps because she didn't understand that it was a choice.

But then, the chaos began. It started at the store (you know, because all ear-piercing-scream-lay-in-the-floor-kicking-make-everyone-look fights with toddlers happen in the most public place you can find). I asked her if she wanted to wear her "monkey" (read: leash), or if she wanted to ride in the buggy. She said she wanted to wear the monkey. But the moments that followed were nothing short of terrible.

She would say, "'Dis way, mommy, 'DIS WAY!"

I would say, "Wait a minute. Mommy needs to look at this item."


Thus began the biggest toddler battle we have had so far. For the finishing touches, she was so angry as I put her in the car that she actually BIT my ARM. My sweet, angel, darling baby girl sunk those newly-formed teeth right into the very arm that was TRYING to buckle her in, to keep her safe from harm.

This behavior continued over the following week, with increasing frequency.

She would want juice. I would hand her juice. She would push juice away and say "NO!"

She would cry and whine and rub her eyes, but when I asked her if she wanted to go night-night... "NOOOOO!"

"No" - a new favorite word, I suppose.

The sweet requests and lively conversations had been replaced by strong-willed demands and incessant whining.

What had I done to my child?!

I really was at a complete loss, drowning in the waves of high-pitched screams and crocodile tears. I looked it up online. I scoured my baby books. Nothing I had ever read had prepared me for this.

This went on until last Friday evening, when I left the house (on my own) to shop for party supplies. That evening, I spent a large portion of my time outside of the house talking with the Lord about the changes that were happening in Chloe. That is when I heard one line that has changed my entire perspective:

You are giving her too many choices.

I suddenly got it. She was not ready to handle even the smallest choice: oatmeal or grits? She didn't know what she wanted. It was my job, as her mommy, to tell her what was best for her and give her only that.

That doesn't mean she can't have requests. That doesn't mean I ignore her requests. It simply means, when I say bedtime, and she asks to read a book... Ok. One. Then night-night.

It's that simple.

I also realize that, at any point, she can choose to go against my decision. But, in the last couple days, I have slowly seen the return of my sweet little girl. She seems to have dropped "Yes, ma'am" altogether so that everyone is "Yes, sir." Hehe. And I'm ok with that.

Because of this re-transformation, I have come to realize something: she needs those boundaries. She needs me to say "no" and to tell her what her next move should be. Otherwise, she is overwhelmed by all the choices. Bedtime? Snack time? Bath time? Book time? She is, frankly, freaked out by the lack of guidance. But inside the boundaries her father and I set, she is at peace, knowing that we will always have her best in mind.

And it is in the midst of this parenting pendulum that I recognize a truth about the Lord.

Perhaps the Lord is allowing me to see this truth in response to another lesson I have learned recently. Perhaps the reason the Lord does not always give us what we ask for is because, like Chloe, we don't really know what we want.

But the Holy Spirit knows us so deeply, so intimately, so closely, that He knows our heart's desires even better than we know them ourselves. He sees us rubbing our eyes and yawning, and He knows what our bodies want and need. And even if we kick and scream and cry and bite along the way, He knows that in the end (if we choose to walk in His will), He is actually giving us what our hearts desire.

And that is where I take comfort this afternoon - in the knowledge that, even if I don't understand or don't agree with what the Lord is doing in my life - He has my best in mind, and He knows (better than I do) how to fulfill the desires of my heart.


Debbie said...

Welcome to the world of parenting my dear! Even though mine are older, I STILL have days (weeks?) when I am at a complete loss.

The coolest part of your post is that God has already shown you the answer to your dilemma. I used to teach pre-school, then public school, and have taught in church for years and if I only learned one thing - it's that children need boundaries. It makes them feel safe. Being consistent is the other things that makes a child feel secure. If we have the same consequences for the same behaviors, the same expectations on a regular basis, then the child knows what is expected of them. If those boundaries move, they feel stressed.

I have one that is strong-willed and I must say there were (and are) days when I thought I was the worst parent ever. But plugging on consistently day after day DOES finally bring the desired results as you are learning now.

I am so thrilled to see you make the correlation with your own relationship with God. I have learned more about God and gotten closer to Him through being a parent than ever before. God is so patient with me even though I am stubborn.

Thank you for sharing your life...you are a blessing!

Brandy Thixton said...

Right on, debbie! Thanks so much for the tip about being consistent. That is definitely something I am struggling to maintain. You're awesome!

Debbie C. said...

Yes, Brandy, that's it!! Too many choices. I remember thinking when mine were little and struggling with this. I want them to grow up healthy and happy and I want to give them what they need, but there is a fine line between what they need and what they want sometimes. Just like us and the Lord. It's so true, though, sometimes too many choices just makes us plain confused and we are really crying out for limits. Way to go!!

The Quote That Started It All...

I myself have twelve hats, each one representing a different personality. Why be just yourself? - Margaret Atwood