This has been a hard week with our 3 year old. I know it’s a difficult age in general, but this little guy has always been a particular struggle for us, and some weeks are especially hard. When his behavior is unbelievable, and I feel like our relationship and his attitude is spinning out of control, this is what goes through my mind:
I’m a failure.
I’m so unequipped for this.
I’m ruining him by not knowing how to deal with his issues.
Here are a few things we’ve learned about George as he’s matured and grown in the last few years. He is super sensitive. This is extremely precious and extremely difficult. He over reacts to everything, and has meltdowns at the smallest thing, and loudly demands our attention until it is dealt with fully. He feels everything quite deeply. He can be a bully, and seems to enjoy picking on his older brother. He is also extremely physically affectionate. He always wants to sit on my lap, stroke my cheek, give me intense kisses, and give long hugs. When he is happy, he is the sweetest of all my children! He will tell me I look pretty and give me hugs for no reason. His voice is so sweet, and he is incredibly loving. He is an amazing older brother to Isabelle, and she is pretty clear that he is her favorite.
He is also sensitive to foods and environmental things. He reacts more to upper respiratory issues, and tends to get rashes randomly. His mood is greatly affected by his diet, and we are working on eliminating things to try and figure out what triggers his behavioral things.
All that to say, when we have a hard day or week with George, it means LOTS of tantrums, lots of crying, lots of unreasonable reactions that have to be worked through and dealt with. And when I look at it from my limited and human perspective, it’s daunting and exhausting.
But I’m learning something. Having a child that needs MORE from me pushes me to Christ. I can’t parent him on my own, I am unable. So I need Christ more, and I know that to have any chance of success and not ruining my child, I have to run to him!
Today I did that. After yesterday brought a long week to a close, I was incredibly downcast. I was speaking those unhelpful phrases to myself again and again. I felt that I was in a vicious cycle with no way out, and the casualty was my precious son. Such a depressing and hopeless thought process.
My mom always said “what is truth?”. When we are downcast and disquieted, anxious and depressed, what is truth? And today, I feel like God has opened my eyes to some things that I had lost sight of. Truth. (thank you Paul Tripp and Elyse Fitzpatrick)
(The next few paragraphs are quotes from Paul Tripp in a video I watched that I’ve personalized a bit for myself, link here)
The truth is that I have absolutely zero ability to change my children. No matter how well I act toward my child, if they don’t transact with God, they’re not going to be okay. It’s my job to build in my children a sense of their need for God. Take them back to the deeper thoughts and motivations of their heart. And so when they start to see their heart, and their need, I can share with them the beautiful story of the gospel.
The truth is that I often say (either out loud or in my heart) “I can’t believe you would act this way, how dare you act this way.” That message is: “you don’t keep the law as well as I do.” Ouch.
The truth is that they are sinners, and I am a sinner. When I get down to the heart motivations of why my kids are doing something, if I am truly honest with myself, I will see those same sins in my heart! No one gives grace better than someone who knows they need it themselves. When I see myself as a sinner saved by grace instead of an upholder of the law, it totally changes the way I parent.
Clearly in the Bible, there is authority. There is law. There are consequences for actions, whatever a man sows he will also reap. Children need correction, they need loving discipline. But it’s not enough. “If a tight system of regulations and enforcement had any ability to change the content and character of a human being, Jesus wouldn’t have come.”
But if all I do is very skillfully regulate and control the behavior of my child for the next 18 years, what do they have? Nothing. Parenting is about being a tool in the hands of a Redeemer to see real heart change take place.
So I think my takeaway today is this: I am a failure. I don’t have this figured out. I don’t know how to love George and train him and deal with his crying/fussing/anger. I don’t even know how I am going to get through the rest of the day with him, let alone the week, or this “phase”.
But I know that it’s not up to me. I’m running with this to Jesus. I’m praying for humility as I see my sin reflected in the actions of my children. We are all full of self, we all want what WE want more than we want God. But I have some good news for my kids, and I am praying for the strength to bring it to them more faithfully every day. I don’t have to get angry when they don’t obey me, or obey the rules! I can use those moments to talk about their heart, and point them to the cross. I have hope, I have the answer. God, give me grace to see that being a mom is not about making sure my kids obey the rules so that they turn out okay, but is really about showing my kids their need for a Savior, and pointing them to the One who saves.
There is such freedom in knowing that it’s not up to me. When they disobey, I don’t have to be stressed. I don’t have to get angry. I don’t have to feel like a failure. This is my privilege, to correct and train in gentleness and humility, showing them the only hope for our life is Christ.