My oldest daughter recently turned four. When she was three, I joked that she had the attitude of a teenager and readily adopted the newly-coined 'threenager' to describe her. But I was not ready for what has been happening the past few weeks.
She is my firstborn, the delight of my heart, along with her brother and sister. She slept through the night at 3 months. She is curious and wide-eyed with wonder at new things. She is sharp and asks good questions about vocabulary and the natural world. I know that I had hit the easy-kid jackpot with this one, and I was confident that she would not be the one of my children to "give me trouble."
Until age 4.
When I taught Sunday school, long before I was married or had children, I taught the four-year-old class. It was my favorite age, because as a linguist I was amazed by these small people and their fully-formed linguistic systems. They could tell intelligible jokes, ask funny and poignant questions, and engage in quality imaginative play. Because of these experiences, I was holding my breath through the threenager year, looking forward to the beauty of age 4.
My expectations, to say the least, have been challenged.
My normally kind and tenderhearted girl has turned a corner...and she can be mean! I mean, can't we all? But this was so unexpected that I am still reeling from the experiences over the last two months.
She is not compliant like she once was. She is not sweet, not quiet like she once was. She is defiant. She can be mean, and she is one of the loudest kids I have ever experienced.
What is going on?
In the midst of this parenting identity crisis, the Lord reminds me of the apostle Peter. I like Peter because we are a lot alike: bold, at times brash, and other times overly confident. ("Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!")
As I stumble through this parenting thing, I have been bold and brash. I have been overly confident. ("Even if I must lay down my life with consistent discipline, my kids will be kind and respectful!"...I'm paraphrasing, of course.)
And now, when my four-year-old says something mean that hurts my feelings or screams at the top of her lungs in defiance of my direction, I feel like a failure. What have I done wrong? Well, maybe I haven't done anything wrong in parenting and she is just a human (maybe). But I surely have responded poorly when she's screaming or ignoring me. I have been mean and self-centered in the way I have handled her disrespect and disobedience. And this grieves me. I have so wanted to give her an accurate and beautiful picture of the love that God her father has for her. I don't want to be a jerk, but I have been.
A few days ago, I was spending time with God and the lectionary reading was John 21. It's after the resurrection and Jesus has just made breakfast for the disciples. After breakfast, he and Peter are talking, and three times the Lord asks Peter if he loves Him.
I feel like Peter. I have messed up--more than three times. I heard the Lord quietly ask me in my heart, "Amanda, do you love me?" So I answered like Peter: "You know all things, Lord--you know that I love you!"
And he gently spoke to me, "Then feed my sheep." Love my children. Continue to pray and hope for them. When I am exhausted, literally get off my booty and put food in front of them. I wear a lot of different hats--mom, wife, teacher, writer--but I have to see that being a mom is part of my restoration. He knows all things and he knows that I love him, and so he calls me to feed his sheep, my little lambs who look to me for care and guidance.
I pray that like Peter, I will continue to seek Jesus and to love him, feeding his sheep and being fed by him, too. That's what I'm clinging to in this hard parenting season: He knows all things and he knows that I love him, and he is calling me to feed these little sheep. Just like Peter's restoration, this is part of mine.
May he continue to give us all the grace to do what he is asking of us.