Toddlers are a fascinating bunch. They have incredibly strong opinions. Their hearts are like volcanoes that erupt with fiery emotion at any given time. They fixate on random details or ideas. They stick by their no even when they intend to mean yes. And despite all these manifestations of growing independence, they still desperately crave the safety of a warm hug and the reassurance of lavish kisses. Sometimes kicking and pushing you away while reaching for you at the same time.
In the midst of tantrums and melodramatic meltdowns, our eyes sometime meet. Expecting defiance, I am sometimes surprised to catch a glimpse of overwhelming confusion in their eyes. It reminds me that they are still learning. They are trying, even if it doesn’t seem like it at times. Emotions and thoughts are skidding through their hearts and minds like southern californians driving in a rainstorm. Utter mayhem.
As Sir Topham Hatt would say to his troublesome trains, “You have caused confusion and delay.”
From my perspective as a parent, I want to put an end to the tantrum. I want to find a solution and change their behavior quickly. I want to get them to see things from my perspective.
I want, I want, I want. It’s the parent version of a tantrum. I seethe with adult impatience.
But then I see that look in their eyes. And it hits me. I’ve skidded out of control. I’ve forgotten that life and parenting and loving discipline does not revolve around me and my immediate wants or expectations. It rarely fits well into my schedule and my distracted mindset. I find myself living and struggling with a self-centered perspective just as much as my kids do.
I have been using the image of a streetlight to help my children understand how to get a better grip of their actions. Both are busybodies and get so involved with what they are doing right then and there. It’s hard to get their attention, and even when I do, it’s hard for them to focus in on what I am asking them to do. So instead, I’ve begun to call out “red light” to catch their attention and stop what they’re doing. Then “yellow light”, followed by a clear request. I end with “green light” to convey the idea of “go and follow through with obedience”. They both love cars and all things that go-go-go, so the streetlight analogy seems to click with them. This naturally doesn’t work perfectly, but it has caught their attention and helped to break down the process of listening and obeying into three clear steps for them.
But the problem is not just the behavior in particular. Beneath the outward behavior is a collision of wants, needs, feelings, and urges that is difficult to sort out. The behavior is just collateral damage.
Maybe I can successfully change a behavior at times with all the parenting techniques out there. I can teach them certain outward actions that appease and satisfy adults. And with that, I get rewarded because adults pat me on the back for having been a good parent because my kids are being “good”.
But what of the wreckage in the hearts of my children? I have not helped them make sense of themselves. I have not addressed the things that led up to the wreckage. Like treating a wound but not the underlying disease. If controlling behavior is my end goal, I might as well just own a dog.
As I hear myself chant “red light, yellow light, green light” to my kids, my heart is learning to take heed as well. Stop. Listen. Go.
Stop your agenda for a moment.
Listen to what’s really going on in them. Take a deep breathe.
Go love with firm authority but gracious overflowing compassion.
Stop. Listen. Go.
Not until I stop do I realize how much I was rushing. And not until I take the time to listen do I even realize how much my voice overshadows theirs. Little did I realize how much I needed this as much as my children. Not just in the hard task of parenting, but in all aspects of my life. Most especially in faith if I seek to entrust all of me and all that I have to God.
Stop. Listen. Go.
Stop. Listen. Go.
It’s my new rhythm.