I'd like to have some kind of built-in sensor that beeps or flashes at me when I've crossed the line separating sane, firm, yet loving mother and insane, irrational wacko mom. Maybe it could make a noise like a metal detector... you're okay, you're okay, you're okay... firm enough, firm enough, firm, firm, firm, AHHHHHHH STOP!!!! STOP!!!! You've LOST IT!!!!!!
Nothing in particular has triggered this desire in me tonight. Just the usual battle against my son's attempt to starve himself every night. No, not starve himself. Just take two hours to eat dinner, one hour and fifty minutes of which he spends spinning in his seat, giggling, talking, and maybe chewing occasionally. I do not have patience for two-hour long dinners. Once I've lost all patience, there's no gaining it back the rest of the night. Everything, and I mean everything, needs to be done NOW, when I say so, and if not, the screaming begins. I'm not really much of a screamer - I guess it's more of a voice raised louder than normal. There's no screeching. But it feels like I could screech. I feel like a boiling tea pot - only some of the steam escapes, but man, I am churning up the heat on the inside.
This son of mine wins the race for the slowest human being on the planet. On some occasions, a sloth moves faster. Ask him to put his socks on and maybe twenty minutes later he'd be done. The rest of the outfit might take several hours. And it isn't because he can't do it, though of course that's his whiny little excuse... no, it's because he hates me. Okay, probably not. I don't know why he does this. I don't understand why, when asked to do something, rather than complete it promptly he takes...... a....... day....... and...... a...... half....... to....... move...... his....... hand....... to........ pick..... up........ his...... fork.
IT IS SO EXASPERATING!
I have asked the child if he likes me yelling at him. He says no, but I don't believe him. We try to tell him that he has a choice - to be good or to be disobedient - and whichever he chooses will determine his happiness. Most of the time, I'm happy to say, this works. In fact, it worked for a while tonight. Elvis needed to choose to eat his dinner, and if he chose to eat his dinner before the timer went off (an hour after dinner had started, mind you), he could have a bowl of ice cream. If he chose to continue wiggling in his chair, pouting, and complaining about the food he hadn't yet tried to taste, he would go from the chair in the kitchen to bed - no ice cream, no games, nothing. He chose wisely, and by 7:00, he had just two pieces of pork chop left on his plate. By 7:05, both pieces were in his mouth, and chocolate ice cream was waiting to be eaten, too.
Amazingly, my son turns into a ravenous wolf when ice cream is involved. If he moves as slow as a sloth when asked to do something he doesn't feel all that compelled to do right this minute, he sprints like a cheetah when the price is right. This only aggravates us more. The child has it in him to complete a task willingly and expediently. The key term in the previous sentence is "willingly", and that's what it seems to boil down to - whether it is his will, or mine, or dad's, that ultimately wins out. And Elvis does not want to do what he does not want to do. That's that.
Added to Elvis's stubbornness is our chosen parental philosophy: You will not win this battle, boy. My son wins when he has proceeded along the path of obedience. The dramatic pout and collapse to the floor causes him to lose, every time.
I don't mean to make it sound like Elvis is the worst kid on the block. By no means, and in fact, I've seen a dramatic improvement in his behavior the last few weeks - from improved manners to a willingness to serve - and those moments are beginning to outweigh the times when he flat out refuses to do what we want him to do. He really is a good little boy. But he's still three and a half years old. He's got a clever way of manipulating and manuevering his way however he can to get out of what it is we have in mind.
I really would like some kind of pacemaker for patience, though. Because I am just as strong-willed as my child. And my husband is, too. Sometimes I wonder whether my insistence on a task being complete is me teaching my child obedience or whether it's me wanting him to do it and it's my way or the highway no matter what so you better get on it because I said so. I don't want to exasperate my children the way they tend to exasperate me. I want them to respect authority, but I also want them to feel empowered to question authority. Maybe it's a litmus test I'm looking for - something I can dip into each demand and interpret the results in order to determine whether this is a lesson in obedience or whether this is me trying to run a dictatorship.
The last thing I want to do is break his spirit. I want my children to know that they are loved, deeply loved, and though I know that enforcing rules, teaching them how to obey, and teaching them the consequences of disobedience are all extremely important, this part of the parents' job is the hardest. It comes with no immediate reward. It usually comes with tears. Instead of instant gratification, this kind of love won't reveal its true value for a long time, maybe years, and even then, it won't be obvious that the end result has anything to do with this kind of love.
When I get into dictator-mode, I pray, hard, that I'll be able to rein myself in. And even when I'm not in dictator-mode but rightfully expecting obedience, I also pray that another part of love - grace and mercy - will step up on occasion, because while obedience is necessary, giving grace and mercy is crucial. How else do we learn God's forgiveness and grace except to be given it as well?
I'm glad God's mercies are new every morning, and I hope that mine can be, too.