I used to think I was a patient person. I rarely, if ever, got angry. Then I had a two year old, and the truth was revealed.
My two children are some of the most precious and beautiful blessings God has given me, but I am convinced that children are not just to be enjoyed. Parenting is a constant challenge to our character, a drain on our energy and patience, and a true exercise in learning unselfishness. It is only through the trials of parenting a toddler (and now two toddlers) that I have discovered how quick to anger I can be. I recently read She's Gonna Blow!: Real Help for Moms Dealing with Anger. While the book helped me understand that many mothers struggle with similar issues, the author focused on a more explosive type of anger than mine. For me, I may not be yelling at the top of my lungs, but I react to misbehavior in anger, words of frustration slip out, and after a string of such misbehaviors, I often convey a mood of general annoyance with the children. As the Lord convicts me in this area, I am realizing that loving my children has little to do with thinking they are beautiful and precious (what mother doesn't think so about her offspring?) and a lot to do with patience, sacrifice, and forgiveness.
Today's events were nothing extraordinary. I had a migraine and was busy trying to finish baking, wash the dishes, fold laundry, and start packing for our upcoming vacation. When I finished folding the boys' clothes just in time for lunch, I set them out on top of their dresser so that it would be easy to pack them later. The thought occurred to me that the piles might get knocked down and unfolded, but I decided not to worry about it as I moved on to the next task. After lunch, Donny was supposed to be napping, but like many days recently, I found him still awake. I was less than thrilled to discover a messy "accident" in his Pull Up (I use quotes because "on purpose" would be a more fitting term for a child who is well aware of his need to use the toilet). Then when I walked over to his dresser, I saw all the clothes I had folded...on the floor. I was angry - angry about the Pull Up, about the clothes, and probably a little bit about the fact that he was so wide awake and making no attempt whatsoever to take a nap and give me a few moments of peace.
After a few words indicating that this laundry unfolding was a terrible tragedy and an unheard-of offense (even though I knew it would happen), I stepped out the room to analyze the situation. WHY was I so upset about refolding a few tee shirts and changing a dirty diaper? I concluded: because it makes more work for me. When my children make a mess, I have to clean it up - even if they help - so I try to minimize messes. But am I so selfish that I cannot do a little extra work for the sake of my children without grumbling? Acts of defiance may bother me greatly and should be disciplined appropriately, but appropriate discipline is done in a gentle and loving way, not with anger or impatience or a defeated woe-is-me attitude. I would never talk to a stranger or a friend or a student with an exasperated tone, so why do I feel justified in speaking that way to my children? And besides that, unlike my peers and random people I meet, my children are learning from me. Since they spend nearly all of their waking hours with me, my words, actions, and attitudes are the model that will shape their early years. Do I want to teach them to sigh in exasperation, or to raise their voice if they have to repeat something? Of course not. Such behavior manifested in a child would merit discipline, because it would be rude. And love is not rude. Love gives selflessly, even if it means changing diapers that should never have been dirtied, folding laundry that you have already folded, or forgiving children for the same offenses that they seem to commit seventy times seven times each day.
Later that afternoon, I went in to clean up the laundry mess and pack the boys' bag for vacation. Surprisingly, I didn't have to refold anything - all of the clothes had stayed perfectly folded despite being knocked to the floor. I calmly placed the piles in the bag while Donny, eager to help, insisted on fastening the bag buckles. The chores were finished, my headache was gone, and the trials of the morning were forgotten with what Donny likes to call "a forgiving hug." Thank you, Lord, for forgiving hugs, and for teaching me how to love my children.
There are many Scriptures that would be appropriate for today's reflection, but the one that came to mind is actually posted in the boys' room next to Psalm 4:8 - ironically, right above their dresser. These fitting words from the familiar love passage remind me of my own little loved one, as I hear his toddler voice reciting them in my mind:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-5