I recently had the opportunity to write an article for New Man a publication for Christian men. This was the result along with a few others that I wrote.
As any parent can tell you, raising children is tiring. My boss who has four now adult children shared with me that he was “tired for ten straight years,” when his children were little. When non-fathers ask me about what it is that is so exhausting it is hard to pinpoint one thing. I came to the conclusion then that it is everything. It is the fact that I am here to serve them whether I like it or not. They need me, and if I do not tend to them, they run amuck. It is especially stressing to mediate the fights between my four-year-old Madelyn, and my two-year-old, Elijah. They love each other and yet they fight consistently. They are two very different personalities and clash easily.
Madelyn is a Pharisee. She loves rules and ensures that not only she, but everyone else follows them. She is always on the look out for rule violations and immediately brings them to our attention so that correction can be made. This means she will correct me if I use the word “stupid” while talking on the phone (because it is a rule that you cannot call someone stupid). She is especially fond of correcting her little brother.
Our son Elijah is 2 and 1/2. A horrible age that turned a loving, affectionate, boy into a wild animal that says “no” more than he can say “thank you” and seems to question our authority every opportunity. He hits, kicks, spits, squeals, squawks, and throws which has my wife and I questioning whether to have more children, which is really a moot point because our third, Olivia, has already arrived.
However, as Dickens wrote, “it is the best of times and the worst of times.” Hard to believe? Let me illustrate with a story.
It is challenging to remain patient with Elijah when he is being a tyrant as I like to call him. Recently we were going to my mother-in-law’s house for a swim. He was driving us crazy. In spite of having luxuries that we did have growing up, such as a DVD player in the car, he still finds reason to complain. He and his older sister Madelyn were arguing with each other over something silly as always.
“Don’t touch me!” She yelled.
“Stop talking!” He responded.
And so it went for a few minutes until we parents threatened punishment. Not long after, my animal son resorted to making animal noises. A shrill squeal came from his mouth that had everyone holding their ears. We were annoyed. Madelyn started shouting at him to stop it, and the baby started fussing, obviously displeased by the sound as well. He enjoyed the reaction from everyone so he did it again. Again everyone responded as they had before, so he did it once more.
This time we responded as any highly irritated parent would who feels they lost control of a situation and is powerless to do something otherwise; we yelled.
“Elijah, don’t do that again or you are going to get a spanking!” we hollered. He did not immediately respond so we reiterated our case before he had time to counter our argument with some reason why he should be allowed to continue.
“Son if you don’t stop that right now you are going to be in big trouble.” We emphasized
Our four year old Madelyn, the law enforcer, elected to help carry the message of our rules, “yeah if you don’t stop you are going to get a spanking,” she said accusingly. Now of course this added a new dimension to our problem. As parents we do allow a four year old to boss a two year old, because we set our selves up as the authority in the home, and such actions usurp our control.
“Madelyn, you are not the parent,” my wife added. And so it went for about ten minutes on the way to grandma’s house. Scolding, mediating, sighing, and considering whether or not to continue driving or turn around and go home. Ten minutes seemed like and hour in an environment like that. Alas we made it. Once there we had some argument about having to wear shoes, but then my wife and I turned them loose in the back yard while we caught our breath.
The struggle was not over of course. “Playing” has a tendency to turn into “fighting” and then into “crying.” When it did they both sought us out in our air conditioned sanctuary.
“He hit me!” the four-year-old cried.
“She is being mean to me,” the two-year-old defended. And around we went again on the crazy-go-round.
It made me wonder why we try to take them any where, but then I remembered that they are just as crazy at home, and maybe it is fair to share the insanity some times with family and friends. Family can be a good regulator. When I am completely stressed out from all the fighting, crying, and questioning I can lose my grip on sanity. It is then that I am likely to say or do something unloving, and therefore unchristian. But when there are family and friends watching and perhaps even helping, it is easier to stay calm.
In all of this madness, which we call life, God is there. These events were building up to a test of my faith, or if not a test, at least an opportunity to be reminded of God’s love.
I was relaxing on the couch when my wife suggested, that I swim with Elijah. He is after all only two and although he had on floaties and there were plenty of people in the pool, it was prudent that I attend to him. He has no healthy fear of water which can be dangerous for a boy who doesn’t swim without aid.
Reluctantly I put my swim trunks on, a little self conscious because I am beginning to grow a gut, and got into the water which seemed surprisingly cold for July. As I eased in and my son reacted with joy at my presence my attitude inched towards optimism. I finally submerged myself and after a few minutes the water felt refreshing.
I ensured that Eli did not lose his balance and that he did not sink into the water. I played with him by lifting him out and going under myself only to pop up and surprise him. By now I was actually enjoying myself and forgetting the drama he directed in the car on the way there.
I was rewarded with something that only a child can give and only a parent can understand. Elijah wrapped his arms around me in the pool and whispered “I love you daddy,” in his sweet and innocent toddler voice. Those words melt my heart. The pure and unconditional love that a child can express is precious beyond anything in this world. It is why I believe Jesus told his disciples that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to those such as these.” Children love like no other human can love. They love, agape love, closer to the way God loves us, and that is why they are favored.
I was glad then, that I endured the fighting and the crying, because after it all, my son loved me, and knowing that my God, my wife, and my children love me helps me to endure many things, least of all fighting and crying.