I took my children to the park this afternoon. I almost didn’t. It’s a beautiful day, but my daughter has been whiney and stubborn lately. I barely got her to school on time because she resisted getting dressed. I could hardly get out of her classroom because she had a new classmate and was “shy” (anyone who knows my daughter knows that she is not shy and that she loves school, so this was clearly more about wanting something from me than not wanting to stay at school). We had three more unpleasant interactions in the ten minutes it took to get from her classroom to the car. I didn’t want to take her to the park. I didn’t want to empathize or see from her point of view. I just wanted to punish her, to get her in line and “make” her behave. But somewhere between preschool and home a tiny thought crept through my irritation and rationalization. I resisted, but I couldn’t dismiss it entirely. I did know how she felt. Don’t we all have moments of being irritable, out of sorts, at loose ends? God doesn’t push me farther away when I’m feeling like that. He pulls me back in.
Early spring is often a hard time for us. Holidays, birthdays, and cold weather add up to too many treats, too much tv, and not enough fresh air and exercise, all of which takes its toll on children’s behavior. When everything is a fight it can start to feel like all the fun of parenting is being swallowed up in a battle of wills between me and my child. I am tempted to think that I have to win this battle NOW, because I can’t go on living like this for the next 13 years. It’s easy to get harsher and harsher, because I’m tired of fighting and just want to put an end to it. At moments like this I have to remind myself that parenting IS war. I am fighting. But I’m don’t have to fight WITH my child; my job is to fight FOR her. Whether you think in terms of evil, demons, or simply the darker side of human nature, the fact is that there are powers at work in the world that seek to destroy harmony and love. There are influences and patterns of behavior that will turn my daughter into a whiney, ungrateful child and eventually a thoughtless, selfish adult. While she is small it is my job to fight those powers for her. But I almost always have to begin by fighting them in myself. Sometimes that does mean being firm with her, leaving a friend’s house when she is misbehaving even if I am not finished with my conversation, enforcing limits even when it would be easier to let things slide. But sometimes it means being gentle, even when I don’t feel like it. It means not taking her behavior personally, giving up my right to punish her, and doing whatever it takes to help her feel and behave better. It means building a relationship to last a lifetime, even at the expense of “winning” in the moment. Sometimes, it means taking her to the park on a sunny day so she has a better chance at a good afternoon, rather than punishing her for having had a rotten morning.