It's funny how when you're a young child you assume that your parents know everything, and you live by this comforting fact. And then once you become a parent, you feel like you don't know anything and you live day by day "faking it" until you get it right. Life is a learning process at every stage, clearly.
My husband and I are always trying to better ourselves as parents. I have quite the collection of parenting books, and generally try to read up extensively on a subject before we make our decisions on our own parenting styles. (Seriously - if you need book suggestions for any topic at all, feel free to ask me. Most parenting books you can even get for FREE on Paperback Book Swap.)
One of the greatest parenting resources to us has been the Bible. It may sound very WASP-y of me (as my New York friends would say), but it's absolutely true. The Bible is full of little messages that get us through the day, the week, the "stage" in our child's life.
We're part of a group called Homebuilders at our church, a study/support group meant for Christian families to come together and share experiences and learn from one another. It's really been a blessing to us, especially since Ken and I were invited to join when our daughter was just weeks old.
Right now our group is studying the book The Gospel Centered Family by Tim Chester. Specifically though, how it connects to Ephesians 6: 1-4:
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." 4 Parents, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
The book begs the question, what does it mean to exasperate your children? Not yelling? Not serving up long-winded explanations that will go over their heads? Not overwhelming them with more than they can handle?
Later that evening after our group met I put AJ to bed a little early, telling her that she had to go to sleep because tomorrow was a school day. That was a mistake. She became outwardly excitable and wouldn't go to sleep. An hour later the playfulness died down as the need for sleep settled in, and she began to cry and cry. "Mommy! Read to me! Daddy! A book, please?" My husband and I kept going in there and laying her back down and telling her to go to sleep. I picked her up and as she was fussing so much that I was afraid she was going to kick my growing belly. "Do NOT kick mommy, be gentle!" I yelled. The more she cried and refused to go to sleep, the more frustrated my husband and I became. "Go to sleep! We are NOT playing now. Stop that! Lay down. Lay down. Lay down."
Finally, two and a half hour later, I couldn't handle it anymore. I went into her room and picked her up. With her blanket we went to the rocking chair, where I gently told her that it was time to go to sleep. I sang her a song and we rocked for about 20 minutes. She didn't fall asleep, but she did calm down to a point where I could put her back in bed.
When I came back downstairs, my husband asked me what happened, and it clicked for me. I said to Ken, "I think we were exasperating her!" Her being over-tired and crying matched with our frustration with the situation was totally bugging her out. Not to mention, I never stopped to think about what a vulnerable time this is for her. I know all those reality TV shows tell parents to toughen up their kids, let them go to sleep crying if they have to. But with her dad and I being obviously frustrated, that could have been scary for her. That could have felt like we were mad at her and that we weren't coming back when that door shut on her. Two year olds, after all, do not have the same reasoning as we do.
The whole situation was a life lesson in action, and a reminder to stop and think about the little things.
Be good to your children. They grow up too fast.