Thursday, May 19, 2011

Childish Ways

"Ca-preez-nee," my friend Josie said the other day, as we watched our children play together in my kitchen. Or at least that's what it sounded like to me. It was in Russian. (Josie, having fallen in love with Jesus and a man committed to foreign missions, in that order, is living out a decade of her life in Kiev, Ukraine with her husband and two young sons.)

Ca-preez-nee is the Russian word for "capricious," and according to Josie, a word you often hear mothers on the Ukranian playground say to one another when their children do something strange or frustrating: like refusing to eat a granola bar because it has broken in half, or insisting on wearing their shirt in-side-out. Capricious means (yes, I looked it up) subject to, led by, or indicative of
caprice or whim; erratic. To be thorough, caprice means a tendency to change one's mind without apparent or adequate motive.

Without apparent or adequate motive. Yes, that sounds about right to describe a child four years old and under. If I'm understanding my friend's cultural assessment, this means that Ukranian mothers know how to shrug their shoulders over their children's whims and erratic behavior, without being plagued by the need to understand, correct or control them.

This is in stark contrast to mothers like me. Which would mean what? English speaking?
American? Middle class Californian? Over thinking? Mothers in my circle are much more likely to assert rational causes for the reason a formerly compliant child suddenly refuses to get in a car seat or shopping car seat. "She hasn't napped in two days." "Her sister has been away at camp and she misses her." "He's getting a molar." "He's processing his anxiety over [enter trauma of choice here]."

These assessments give us mommies a sense of control. It would be nice to be able to explain why a child who ate onion rings yesterday will suddenly pick apart every food to make sure there is nothing remotely resembling an onion in his meal today. And I love it when I find the motive in a behavior that previously seemed without cause. Like when Olivia, who had never exited her bed during nap or after bedtime before, suddenly began creeping around the house, "for a cup of cold water" she would say when I found her in the hallway. I realized she had been obsessed with "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and she was absolutely astounded that Cindy-Loo Who had gotten out of her bed in the middle of the night. Perhaps I can do it too, she thought.

We are minute studiers of our children's behavior in my circle of friends, which is certainly better than the alternative: a mother who takes little interest in her child's development or ignores the cues that something is changing or wrong with her baby. But I remember the stress of my first-time mommyhood, and telling my husband, "I feel like Sophia is a problem to be solved." So there's something very appealing -- and also wise -- about a shoulder shrug of acceptance and a sense of humor about the caprice of children.

Caprice in mothers, on the other hand, is a bad characteristic. Not on the whimsical spectrum, of course ("Come on kids, let's go to get donuts in our pajamas for no reason!"). But in terms of rules and discipline, a mommy cannot be capricious. I can't suddenly start shouting at my kids for doing something they were allowed to do yesterday, just because I'm in a bad mood. A mother that habitually doles out discipline capriciously is one of the scariest kinds of parents, who raises fearful and ultimately rebellious kids.

This is the hardest part of mothering: the consistency. I remember telling my friend Jenni, when she had a three- and I an two-year-old, that our discipline has to be based in truth, not just on our mood. Seeing that three year olds are way harder to manage than two year olds, she probably hung up and went and pinned my face on a dartboard. I don't blame her. It's hard to be the one who has to act like an adult in the house when every one around you is acting like a child -- even if they are children and that's their job.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church, wrote, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me." You know what's fascinating? This verse is buried in one of the most well-known chapters of the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter that defines the characteristics of the Greek agape form of love -- the unselfish form. You know: patient, kind, non-envious, not boastful, not easily angered, keeping no record of wrongs. It is hard, hard, hard to love your kids like that, especially when they persist in being capricious, unpredictable, exasperating. But on the other hand, who can love agape like a mother? Here's the rest of the definition: "Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

Livie has been capricious in the extreme for two weeks and I am worn out, so here's what I'm praying for today: The ability not to "solve the problem" of her behavior, but to continue to protect her, to trust God, to have hope, and to keep persevering. Lord, help me put childish ways behind me so Livie one day can too.


  1. Hang in there!!! In my head all of Eryn's previous ages were filled with light and happiness, and then I re-read maybe an old entire month of my baby-book blog of hers and am reminded of the ups and downs of real life! I have a friend who likes to remind me that all of it (the good and the bad) is just a phase. Maybe repeating JUST A PHASE is the American mother's way of shrugging and letting go. I hope that Murphy's Law of Blogging kicks in for you and that what you just wrote becomes no longer relevant. It works for me often enough... ;-)

  2. Thanks so much for this! I was just thinking about the application of 1 Cor. 13 in the context of parenting yesterday, and was thinking also how so much of our parenting or discipline can be done to meet the approval of other parents, rather than out of understanding of and love for our children. And part of that is accepting that sometimes (a lot of the time!) they're just being children- immature by design and development, not immature like we can be! Thanks for the encouragement!