At first it’s kinda cute. We put her in bed and kiss her good night. My wife and I, then make our way to the living room to catch up on the day’s events. With in a matter of 15 minutes we begin to see Emma’s curly-haired mop top peek its way around the corner. And she knows… she knows she’s not supposed to get out of bed.
As soon as ours eyes meet, her bobbly head and mischievous grin disappear in a flash and you can hear the pitter patter of her short strided run down the hallway followed by the closing of her bedroom door. On any given night this can happen 4-5 times over the course of an hour or more.
Sometimes my wife and I handle this situation with patience and grace. Other times we don’t.
On this particular night, I could tolerate one time out of bed. Even on the second, I was able to keep my cool, but after that all patience was lost.
I just… wanted… her… in bed…
I heard the door open, and then heard her walking down the hall. I thought to myself, “This is it! This has got to stop!” I got up from my chair and shot around the corner hoping the element of surprise would catch her off guard and startle her enough so that I wouldn’t have to raise my voice. She stood in the hallway unfazed with her head slightly turned down and lips firmly encircled around her thumb.
When I noticed my scare tactic was a proven failure, I shook my finger at her and sternly said, “BACK TO BED! NOW!”
I could tell she was looking for compassion and sympathy, but I had none. She was motionless.
Next out of my mouth came, “EMMA JAYMES… THIS IS THE LAST TIME… BACK. TO BED. NOW.”
Still no movement.
“THAT’S IT!” I said. And began to walk down the hall toward her with force thinking for sure this will do it. She’ll get the message and go sprinting back to her room.
But she didn’t.
The strangest thing happened. She started to come towards me and by the time we met in the middle of the hallway all of my mental scripts for how this nightly exchange plays out were completely scrambled. I didn’t know what to make of it. But still in a huff, I scooped her up ready to dump her back in her bed when all of a sudden my nose shed light on the situation.
Emma had messed her pants and needed a diaper change. I felt horrible.
How long ago did this happen? In how many of her previous trips out of her room had she been trying to tell me she needed help?
Again, sometimes I parent from a place of patience and grace, but other times I don’t. There are plenty of other times I parent from a place of selfishness and control. I just want my kids to do what I say. I’m not interested in parenting their heart or seeking if they actually need something, I simply want them to “behave” so I can get what I want; peace and quiet.
I tell myself, “I’m off the clock. This is ‘my time.’ I shouldn’t have to parent after 7:30pm. I have important things to do in catching up on my day’s work that didn’t get done.”
That night, in the middle of the hallway, while chaining Emma’s diaper, I was reminded that God’s parenting style with me is much more gracious and patient then my parenting style with my kids. God is continually loving me into a new place rather than simply demanding that I obey.
Sure, there are times when discipline and boundaries are needed for small children, but not at the expense of seeking to nurture their heart so that even in the moments when they disobey, they still know that they are loved.
For those of you who are parents, how have you seen this play out with your kids?
If you’re not a parent, how have you experienced God’s patience in his fathering of you?