Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Problem Child

Quite some time ago, someone whom I love and respect very much said to me, "That David! He's going to be your difficult child. All his life, he'll test you and push the boundaries."

I'm not sure exactly what I said - probably nothing, lest I say the wrong thing. I probably did the "smile and nod" routine, but inside I was thinking, "No way. I WILL NOT label any of my children in this way. Just because David is going through a phase of testing the boundaries does NOT mean that he'll be doing that the rest of his life. I WILL NOT set such a low expectation for him."

And then I thought of another someone who, several years prior, had observed Josiah and told me that "he's such a strong-willed child; and if you don't nip that in the bud and exert your authority, you're going to have trouble with him." That someone didn't tell me that Josiah was my "difficult child" because, at the time, Josiah was my only child. But the someone did seem to feel that trouble lay ahead and I clearly wasn't doing a good enough job of showing Josiah who was boss.

These conversations have stuck with me because both individuals are people who mean far more to me than does a stranger in the street. I've had my fair share of offhand comments from passersby about various aspects of childrearing (especially when we lived in Israel where people are most definitely not hesitant to air their opinion about anything, particularly if it involves children). But these two people have an ongoing relationship with us, and I value their input. However, I strongly disagree with them (maybe that goes to show how strong-willed I am). :)

The way I see it, I don't have a difficult child, but each child I've had does have difficult phases. Therein lies a key difference. It's true that when Josiah was a toddler, he liked to exert his will, leading to some conflicts between us. What toddler doesn't do that?! It's true that, at the point in time in which someone #1 was observing David, he was going through the stage of "I want to do what I want to do, and I'm going to see how much Mommy will bend the rules for me, especially when someone else is around." But neither of those facts means that Josiah is my difficult child, or that David is.

And neither is Tobin, although if you were a fly on the wall in our household on most days, you might think that he is.

Josiah, although not perfect by any means, has moved into the wonderful stage of basically obeying without making a fuss; and I'm realizing that the battleground for him now is his heart. While he's obeying, how is his attitude? But at least, we're past the basic "you need to learn to obey" period of childhood.

David, for all his distractedness and Tobin-button-pushing and other faults, has also largely learned the foundational obedience lesson. When I ask him to do something, I can count on him to do it. Of course, sometimes he gets distracted and lolly-gags along the way; or, as with Josiah, sometimes his heart is not humble and peaceful while he's doing it; or other issues crop it. But by and large, he is not a child who tests me at every turn.

But Tobin. My dearly-loved sweetheart Tobin. He happens to be two years old; and although I am a firm believer in not expecting the twos to be terrible, I do realize that it is a very normal stage of life for a child to be exerting his independence and figuring out what ways are appropriate for that and what ways are not. Some days recently, I have felt, at the end of the day, like I've been on the battleground all day long; and I can only let my guard down when he's in bed. At times like that, I remind myself of some key principles: pick your battles, don't sweat the small stuff, but do realize that you're fighting for his soul...and that these lessons of submission to authority and developing the fruits of the Spirit will stand him in good stead all the rest of his life. He'll find friendships easier because of this battle I'm fighting. He'll be a better student and employee because of it. His marriage and children will be blessed because of the lessons he's learning as a two-year-old. I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I am not fighting against him, but against the forces of evil who war against all that is good and righteous and holy. And I am not about to give in to their schemes.

The last time I went to the library, I had all four boys with me; and I made the (somewhat rash) decision to never again take all four boys to the library with me for the next 10 years or so--at least until all of them can be counted on to obediently come when I say "come," and cross the street when I say "cross the street," and NOT pull random books off the shelves, and NOT run off to get a drink at the water fountain when I'm trying to check out, and NOT push Shav's stroller and run into other people, and NOT linger behind to push the automatic door button again and again, and NOT stop in the middle of the street because they suddenly think they're so tired and would rather not budge an inch. Later, I realized that 10 years is a rather long time to go without a library trip, so I relented and decided we could go, IF we used the double stroller and Tobin was securely strapped in and unable to cause much chaos, even if he didn't like it one bit. Gracious of me, wasn't it? But mercy! It is no fun to deal with all of those issues, especially the dangerous one of "get your toddler out of the middle of the road while simultaneously pushing your baby in his stroller and having an overloaded and terribly heavy bag of books on your shoulder and keeping an eye on your other two children to make sure they don't go too far ahead" and all of this on one of the hottest days of the year...and oh yeah, don't get angry and upset! "A soft answer turns away wrath...a soft answer turns away wrath...a soft answer turns away wrath...asoftanswerturnsawaywrath...asoftanswerturnsawaywrath...asoftanswertu..."

When we went to our local lawn party a few days ago, we had a wonderful time. We ate greasy food, drank fresh lemonade, the boys rode on the rides, it was great. Fun, fun, fun. Until it was time to go. Why did Tobin have to ruin it by stubbornly refusing to "come" and "get in the van" and "sit in your seat" and "let me buckle you"? Couldn't we have had an entire evening of fun instead of it being marred by a conflict of wills at the end? Why is there always a conflict of wills?

Because that's the phase we're in. Because Tobin is learning the basic lesson of obedience. Because he still doesn't realize the benefit and flat-out safety that comes from bending his strong little will and bowing his sweet head and submitting to authority. Because he doesn't know that if he doesn't learn this lesson now, he will "kick against the pricks" until he does. Because he has no clue that the lesson is best learned here at home with us and not later, out in the world, where it is a much more painful lesson and has much more lasting, damaging consequences.

Meanwhile, it is not fun to be engaged in this battle. It is exhausting. But it is so very important. And so, I'll keep on fighting for Tobin's soul, trying to be consistent, striving to help him learn this fundamental lesson of life. That's what I've done--and will continue to do--for each of my "problem children." :) That's what someone did for me when I was a problem child. :)

God, give me strength!!


Anonymous said...

I remember those days at the library when my son was younger. I used to speed through the stacks and grab any book that looked interesting. I didn't have time to stand there and peruse a book, because my son was pushing books through to the other side and running around gathering all the step-stools together and being scolded by the children's librarian. Needless to say, I checked out a lot of books I really didn't want!

He's 11 now and the library is a breeze, but, as you know, each age comes with a new set of challenges!

Sally said...

Wow! You do undertake a lot! I don't go to the library (I have a few times in the past), and we don't go to lawn parties (not to say we never will, but we haven't yet). I agree with so much of what you said, dealing with things now so life will be easier for the child down the road, being consistent (which is sometimes so hard, especially when you're tired), and that people's predictions aren't necessarily correct. I think I am safe in saying Paul never had a "terrible two's" stage, but that doesn't mean he didn't have lessons to learn. Miss Hannah went through the "terrible two's" between 9 and 12 mo., and then it all just faded away. She has been a sweet, willing, wanting-to-do-what's-right child on the whole ever since. Boy, am I ever so glad we didn't give up and quit correcting and disciplining at that critical time. It sure does pay off. So, keep on and be encouraged by the fact that this too will pass.

Sally said...

Oops! I think I mean something like 15 and 20 mo. for Hannah's "terrible two's" stage! But it was definitely all over by the time she turned 2 years old.

Amanda said...

I can sympathize very much with your story of the library. Just yesterday I told Ben that I didnt' want to take all 3 boys to the grocery store because what ends up happening is I get frustrated and angry with them because they're being kids. Yes, sometimes disobediance plays a BIG role in that but my short temper is a result of exhaustion and it makes me not a very good mother in return. Keep the faith - raising children is sometimes a battle but a battle hard fought and won. :)

Our Family said...

Hang in there, dear mother... you are doing a great job!

Carl8ta said...

I appreciate the way you have chosen to view the 'conflict of wills' - a fight for your child's soul. Not as a fight of I'm the parent and I'm right; but for the longterm benefit of yor child and their soul. What a wonderful gift to give your child - strength in obedience - how much easier will it be for them to submit to god's leading in the future!!! This post was so encouraging!!