The past couple months, parenting Heidi has proved a bit challenging. In fact, some days it feels impossible. I believe someone told me it’s called the “three-teens.” (Get it? Like pre-teens? Only like…three-teens? The drama of a teenager mixed with the tantrums and stubbornness of a toddler? Yeah, sounds about right).
This girl is fighting sleep….daytime and nighttime. She is throwing herself to the ground, kicking and screaming, in public. (I always said my kids would never do that….yeah.) She is throwing fits over the most ridiculous things (please see this article for reference). She gives me the dirtiest looks I have ever received from another human being. She tells me, “No! YOU do it!” when I ask her to put her toys away. And one of the most hurtful things of all is she turns on the charm and sweetness once daddy gets home and acts as if I am not worth giving the time of day.
Now, let me point out that this is not who Heidi really is 100% of the time. When she is tired, all of this flares up. Who Heidi really is is a very sweet and spunky little girl who forgives quickly (I’m usually the one apologizing to her for losing my temper). When she is with other people and I’m not around, they tell me she is the sweetest and well-behaved girl. She is hilarious and smart and one of the people I love to hang out with most. But this phase we are in…this phase…will probably kill me.
One morning last week, she woke up at 5 a.m. And she wouldn’t go back to sleep. In fact, she was livid we wouldn’t let her get up. So she cried and screamed angrily in her room. Our house is small so closed doors don’t help and an upstairs does not exist. So from across the hallway, we listened. For a long time. We let her out once to go to the bathroom but then put her right back in her room. And she cried and screamed some more. Cody and I lay in bed, eyes wide open, trying to calm our angry and frazzled nerves. We hadn’t slept well in a couple weeks because of her restlessness. Finally I went to the kitchen, turned on the coffeemaker, paced nervously until it was done, poured my cup with a shaking hand, stepped out onto the patio, slumped into a chair, buried my face in my hands and cried.
I cried and I cried. And my prayer went something like this: “God, I am clueless. I can’t do this. I can’t parent her. I don’t know how and I keep losing my temper and I’m failing her because all she sees is my anger. She is out of control, and I’m not shaping her right. I’m so angry, can’t face today. Lord, help.”
I sat there. No lightning bolt came. No relief of the soul, no weight lifted, no amazing insight on how to handle my kid. Just silence and breathing deep. Eventually, I mustered myself, retrieved Heidi from her room, and plopped her in front of Sesame Street and started to make breakfast, just like any other day.
Moments of enlightenment are wonderful … words from the Holy Spirit are precious… and clarity is just coveted sometimes in our world. A lot of times, in our day-to-day reality, we don’t get these things. Instead, we get, “Trust me….hold on…I’m here, regardless…It won’t be perfect or pretty always…but I give gifts moment by moment, even when it feels the days are filled with anguish. Pay attention.”
God knew parenting would be difficult and feel impossible at times. I have been told by parents of older parents this never changes. He knew we would lose sleep and sometimes dislike our kids (though we love them deeply) and make mistakes and be exhausted from having another baby on the way (and also that we would ask, “Why did we decide to have another one?!!) and have fears we are messing these kids up for life and have husbands who work a lot. He knew we would reach our wit’s end and want to give up and beat our hairbrushes against the sink over and over again out of frustration. He knew we’d rather be in a van driving to someplace far off with our friends instead of facing one longest day at 6:30 a.m. armed only with coffee and tears. He knew. He has kids of His own and feels that heart-wrenching pain every single day when we choose wrongly. But that’s where the beauty is…in apologies and mercy and compassion and forgiveness.
That day, Heidi refused to nap (though I always put her down, so she played quietly in her bed when she should have been sleeping). We had company over for the afternoon and evening, and of course during dinner, she began to come apart at the seams. Thankfully, we were with a family who understands, so I tried not to be too embarrassed. We got her bathed and ready for bed early at 7:15.
As I sat on her bed, she in my lap, reading one of her favorite books Muddypaws Goes to School , her head nodded off as I was turning the second page. Sweet girl had passed out cold. She got a little restless when I tried to lay her down in her bed, so I turned her around and draped her over my chest….my huge almost-three-year-old who is the size of a five-year-old burrowed her face into my neck, wrapped her arms around my back, and began breathing deep.
I relaxed and closed my eyes. As badly as I wanted to lay her down and take a hot bath or watch a movie or sit with my husband and drink an O’Doul’s (I’m pregnant, that’s my only option) or sleep, I forced myself to soak up this moment. She’s little. She’s tired. She’s learning. I haven’t been able to hold her like this for along time, and come January, I will rarely have time, so I just enjoyed it.
And in that moment, it occurred to me I had not taken a lot of time lately to pray for her.
So I did. I asked God to bless her and protect her…to provide her with a good circle of friends throughout her life…to give her a soft heart of love for other people…to make her quick to apologize and quick to forgive…to allow her to see the good in us and not the bad we sometimes reveal… to protect her future spouse if marriage is in her future…for wisdom for Cody and me as we parent her…and the list goes on. And in the process, I did feel better. It felt effective. It felt like something I could do, something I knew how to do. I didn’t feel so out of control.
Maybe that’s what I should have leaned on all along. Do my best, and then give it to God and try again tomorrow. I was never created to parent her perfectly. I was created to love her unconditionally, to help her see who she really is. At the beginning of this post, I wrote, “That’s not who Heidi really is.” It’s not who any of us are. We are and can be new creations, made by God to love and to patch up rough days with apologies and hugs and kisses and forgiveness and a movie night with ice cream. Heidi needs me to show her who she was created to be, to help her sift through the sin and the crap to find the good stuff. Sometimes I try to get things so right up front that I forget all the rest, which is sometimes most important of all.
Be encouraged. God sees what you’re going through. He knew before you did what path you’d walk. Trust the trials and trust God is listening. You most likely are not failing with that task at hand, but maybe failing to see God is working through every day. Resist the temptation to believe He’s not.
“Trust in God at all times, you people. Pour out your hearts to Him, for He is our refuge.” Psalm 62
“There is rarely nothing you can do. Being still and knowing He is God is a long shot from nothing. Trusting in a God you cannot see is a long shot from nothing. Holding your tongue is a long shot from nothing. Being patient is a long shot from nothing. Counting it all joy is a long shot from nothing. Submitting is a long shot from nothing. Confessing sin is a long shot from nothing. Resting in Christ is a long shot from nothing, and hear this one really loudly: Praying is a long shot from nothing.” -Beth Moore