I had mixed emotions, when, having posted a blog on battling my three year old just before 8 p.m. last night, I turned on my laptop this morning and found several comments from other mommies who were similarly engaged in skirmishes with their own children. On the one hand, it's lovely to feel that I am not alone. On the other hand, I feel so sorry for these fellow mommies, and wouldn't wish my current struggle on anyone.
Now imagine my emotion, when, still feeling the effects of having to empty Livie's room of most of her toys because she wouldn't help pick any of them up, I woke to her unrepentant, shiny little face peeking over my mattress. Walking into her room I asked, "Do you feel sad that you lost all those toys last night because you made a bad choice?"
"No," she said brightly, "because look! I found my little blue doggy from Auntie Tris." And at this she held up a tiny blue bath toy which had been buried under her other playthings, and gave it a jaunty little "squeak squeak."
Then she proceeded to have another truly hideous day during which she actually foamed at the mouth and spit in the parking lot of a grocery store, miraculously dried her tears long enough to ask for a Barbie knock-off in the toy aisle, and then resumed a snotty tantrum that brought all other shoppers eyes on me. "Feel bad for me," I said to the staring strangers. "This child has nothing to cry about." I really did say that, I swear.
One of the hardest things about parent-toddler wars is that it takes so long to see who is really winning. I'm grateful for the experience of having already made it through this with my first daughter, and seeing that she is a reasonably kind, rational and well-behaved human at this point (age seven and a half). When she was three, I actually believed she might be a sociopath, because all my best discipline techniques and all my worst mommy moments (yelling, forceful door closing, etc) seemed to be equally ineffective. It sounds funny now, but truly, that was on the list of fears I brought to my moms group one tearful morning.
Part of why I believed I was so worried with my first daughter, was that I had bought into an idea sold to me by a speaker at my MOPS group that if I just set boundaries "correctly and consistently," my child would start behaving significantly better within a week. Forgive my strong opinion here, but now I declare to you that anyone who says that to the mother of a toddler is just trying to boost her book sales. If I ever write a book on parenting (hey, that's an idea!), I will tell mothers that they may not see the positive effects of their parenting for two to 20 years! Taking away a child's toys because they refuse to help put them away isn't going to make them put all their toys away the next day. But do it often enough, and some day, when they are developmentally ready, they will internalize the lesson that their actions have a cost, and change their behavior.
Here's the hope I'm clinging to today: My Livie's heart is what I'm trying to shape, not just her actions. On any given day, her behavior is affected by her brain development, how much sleep she's had, how much sugar she's eaten, what changes are going on in our household, and a dozen other things I can't predict, control or even name.
But overall, I believe Jeff and I are launching her into a broad arch of goodness, training her up in the way she should go, by loving her unconditionally, offering her forgiveness, and teaching her the difference between right and wrong. She won't be a perfect person, but I believe she will internalize the goodness we are offering her, by the grace of God. And I also believe that she will one day be able to look disappointment in the face without foaming at the mouth in the parking lot (dear Lord, I hope so).