“What’s wrong with that?” you ask yourself. Well nothing I suppose. It’s really sweet that the toddler wants to kiss his brother. He’s very affectionate little boy who loves to cuddle, kiss, hold hands and tickle. But the issue is this – he’ also strong, big, enthusiastic and not at all aware of his own strength. He could quite literally kill his brother with kindness. In fact today I left the living room very briefly and came back to the heart-stopping scene of him spooning the baby (at first glance I thought he had laid on top of him!) It’s gorgeous behaviour in a way – I love that our toddler is excited about the new member of our family, but it’s terrifying too because he simply will not heed the instruction to “be gentle.”
Back to the story at hand…
So, the toddler decided that he wanted to kiss his brother while I’m breastfeeding. At first he kisses his head gently, “Good boy” I say, “What a lovely big brother you are.” But then the kisses get more fierce – he’s pressing down on the baby’s head, he’s trying to pull the baby out of my arms to give him a cuddle, “Gently! You must be gentle” I repeatedly say. And the whole thing escalates and the toddler and I are basically playing tug of war with the baby! With a raised voice I’m saying, “Stop that now – you’re hurting your brother!” The poor babe has had his feed interrupted, his body pulled about, and he’s pretty disgruntled – in fact he’s screaming at full volume to let the whole shopping centre know about it.
So now the toddler is whining loudly, the baby is screaming and I’m trying to us this moment as a moment of correction! The drama subsides and the scene settles again as I get the baby latched on and encourage the toddler to build a tower – but we’re all feeling a bit fractious.
The toddler momentarily builds a tower and then decides it’s time for another kiss! Well you can imagine how the scene goes – in fact it escalates so much this time that the toddler decides to go for the ultimate form of shopping centre rebellion – he decides that he’s going to leg it out of the play room and away from mummy as fast as he can! So here I am, baby half latched on chasing the run-away toddler while making threats in a very public place! (“Come here or we will be going straight home! Do you want to go home? I mean it, we won’t go to the park. We won’t go and see your friends.”)
With the aid of a sweet elderly lady I get a screaming toddler and baby strapped into the pram. The crowd of people in the play room give me sympathetic smiles as I make my dramatic exit – trying to look unphased but undoubtedly with cheeks burning.
On reflection, it’s quite a sweet and funny thing to have happened – one of those memories that I’ll look back on fondly when the boys have flown the nest. However, the stress and embarrassment of those five minutes ruined my whole day. As much as I tried to take my deep breaths, remember the gospel, and talk to myself about the reality of the situation (“it was only 5 minutes, it’s over now!”) the truth is, the day didn’t really seem as rosy after that. I was keen for the little ones to go to bed, to watch some tv, and have a glass of vino!
So, why did it ruin my day? Well, after reflecting on it, I think it ruined my day because of my PRIDE. Which also makes a fairly nifty acronym to summarise what was going on in my heart.
Pride – The whole situation dented my pride. I had been feeling pretty confident in my ability to look after the boys – thrilled in fact that it was going so well in comparison to how challenging I found looking after Reuben as a first time mum. It’s ok to rejoice in happy times and to be relieved when things are going well – but I definitely shouldn’t base my sense of self-worth on my performance, because it’s very easily shaken.
Reputation – I didn’t know any of the people in the play room. They were all strangers. And yet their looks (whether judgmental or sympathetic) were just mortifying! I wanted them to think well of me and disliked the fact that I didn’t look like a “sorted” mum with two angelic children. Let’s face it – it’s much more pleasant to have strangers say to you, “what beautiful children” and “you look wonderful, I can’t believe you’re out of the house!” But why on earth should my reputation matter with strangers? Back to the pride thing again – it feels good to put confidence in our own ability, it panders to our sinful desire for self-reliance.
Identity – In that moment I was placing my identity in being a good mum. That’s why I wanted my reputation to be that of a “sorted mum” in the eyes of the people around me. That’s why it hurt to have my pride dented. But surely there’s a better identity for me than that of a good mum?
Discipline – confession time! One area of parenting that I find really hard and feel fairly insecure about is the area of discipline. I understand the principles behind it -I love my toddler and therefore don’t want him to be an utter rogue, it’s good for him to have boundaries, he needs to learn to respect authority etc. And yet I find it so hard to discipline him consistently. Partly because I love my own comfort (it’s easier to overlook things for a quiet life) but largely because it’s not really in my temperament. I hate confrontation and conflict. I’m more of a flight than fight kind of person. So discipline is a real challenge for me. But I do try.
One thing that I know is really important is showing children the consequences of their actions. So usually I only threaten things that I can follow through on. Not this time however. I threatened that we wouldn’t go to the park and see our friends (the toddler was really excited about this), and I thought that this would be enough to stop him running away from me. I offered him a simple choice – come back to mummy and we’ll go to the park. Continue to run away and we’ll go straight home. I wasn’t banking on him continuing to run away! But he did, and that meant we had to go straight home. I immediately regretted my words – I now was looking at spending three hours in the house with a naughty toddler before bedtime. I couldn’t cope with the thought of it, and so, kicking myself, I went back on my word and took him to the park despite his disobedience. I felt the guilt of “discipline failure” as well as feeling upset that my son wanted to disobey me.
Embarrassment – the whole thing was so embarrassing! The combination of it being so public and so stressful made it very embarrassing.
But here’s the good news.
Those five minutes didn’t need to ruin my day. Why? Because there are five words that can redeem the whole situation.
“There is now no condemnation”
There is now no condemnation for me because I am in Christ Jesus.
Because of Jesus I don’t need to listen to condemning voices from within or from outside of myself, because the reality is I am not condemned in God’s sight. Far from being condemned, I am forgiven for my sins and failings. Far from being condemned, I am clothed with the very righteousness of Christ – making me pure and blameless in God’s eyes. Far from being condemned, I have the Spirit of Sonship within me to remind me of my new status and to change me so that my life increasingly reflects that reality. I no longer need to base my self-worth on my performance as a mum. My performance is irrelevant – it’s Jesus’ performance that counts.
Because I am clothed with Christ’s righteousness my reputation is that I am pure, spotless and sinless in God’s sight (how extraordinary!) My reputation before him means that my reputation in all other spheres of life pale into insignificance. He looks on me with love and devotion. A royal princess in his household. A daughter under his care. Part of his beloved bride, the church. That’s my identity. Once I see my reputation before him as being all the above (and much more beside!), then I realise that my identity is something much greater and more satisfying than being a “good mum”. So while the 5 minute incident was a bit embarrassing, I can get over it and still rejoice as I enjoy this unshakeable, permanent new identity that I have in Christ Jesus. Jesus’ work of salvation for sinners is indelible.
All this applies to the discipline issue too. I am not the perfect parent (gasps of shock from all of you I know) but none of us are. None of us can match up to God in his perfect parenting. He along judges issues impartially, he alone is without sin and therefore he alone is the only perfect disciplining parent. But the good news is that he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. He doesn’t condemn us, but gives us grace and mercy – he does this even when we love our own comfort over the well being of the kids he’s entrusted to us, and he does it when we are harsh and unfeeling. There’s no condemnation for us imperfect parents – hallelujah!
And wonderfully, the Good News isn’t just that we get forgiveness and righteousness. But that we get these things, and we get the power to change. Romans 8 talks lots about those who are in Christ Jesus having the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works in us to renew our mind and give us new desires (v5) and he helps us put sin to death in our lives (v.13). This is truly good news – I can change to become a better parent with a less-messy heart because God is at work within me.
So there we have it. 5 minutes that ruined my day. But they didn’t need to. There is now no condemnation.
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