Holidays are hard and wonderful all at the same time. The Christmas season is perhaps the pinnacle of possibilities for stress and (un-needed?) hustle and bustle. It's amazing how God will use this time to knock us between the eyes sometimes. You know, those spiritual 2x4s I love to talk about. I was thusly knocked out this last Sunday, by none other than my own eldest son... who's temper tantrum (x2!) was a new and wholely out-of-character occurance that had both Gabe and I questioning our parenting abilities. He had gotten initially in trouble for trying to play with his cousin's and brother's toys. He'd been kind of 'stalking' them pretty much all day. Upon being corrected, he promptly totally lost it.
In short, Jesse finally told us he "hated" his "stupid" toys. There was nothing to "play with".
Total MomFail! Total ChristmasFail. I was simultaneously heart-broken that he would have such a horrible attitude of ungratefulness, extremely angry that his flippancy was so immediate and complete, and somewhat personally saddened that he didn't seem to enjoy anything that I had lovingly hand-picked out for him. Total FAIL- for SO many reasons.
After his second complete, screaming melt-down (again, totally out of character for him- which further confounded us! This parenting stuff is HARD!!) both Gabe and I attempted to talk/beg/reason/threaten some sense into him. We spoke of kids all over the world that don't have as much as we do and how we need to be thankful for what we do get- even if it's not exactly what we wanted. We threatened to take all the toys away (which he was totally unbothered by and actually started packing them up... ), we prayed with him to ask Jesus to show his heart how to be grateful, etc etc. For a solid hour we worked through this issue with him. Seemingly to no avail. It was stressful to say the least. I was not bothered as much by the melt-down as I was about his heart.
Because Jesse is brilliant, he is charming, he is witty and way too smart for his own good. He has a very strong sense of justice and rightness, and more often than not when he argues he has totally valid points. He also has almost zero empathy. It's something we saw in him (or NOT in him) early on. It's something we've had to intentionally and very purposefully pray and teach into him. He's getting much better at it (and I have no doubt that God sent his baby sister, Anna, with Down syndrome to personally help teach him patience, acceptance, and empathy,) and I have no concern that if we continue "training him up in the way he should go" that he'll be a might, kind, gentle man of God. But it's taking time and energy and a ton of prayer.
But back to Christmas night. I was really, REALLY alarmed by him. It completely took all the wind from my holiday sails and I became consumed by thinking about what we needed to do with him, for him, to him... you get the idea. He was clearly extraordinarily frustrated- with the situation, with my not understanding his point of view, with not understanding my point of view. I was super frustrated as well- it seemed no amount of talking it over with him would change his mind. But we ended the night with prayer, for all of us, and he went to bed.
Later that night, as Gabe and I spoke over what to do, it occurred to me that what Jesse was frustrated about was, in fact, somewhat legit. Upon thinking back on what he actually received for Christmas, the kid got 4 toys (3 of which were outside/summertime toys), several games, and the rest was homeschool related or clothing. The <extensive> list he had written out to Santa was woefully unfilled (he got only 2 things from it). Throughout the day he had been asking to play with his toys and we kept telling him they were outside toys only and he couldn't go out. The couple of times he tried to recruit people to play games with him, we all said no.
The poor kid had been trying to play all day. And I had set him up for failure.
Ugh! I felt even more terrible. He had been trying to play with his toys, he wanted to play with his toys, and I wouldn't let him. So when he got in trouble for stalking other's toys, his little sense of justice was beyond what it could bear. He's only 4 so trying to convey this particular injustice was more than his heart could explain. Suddenly I got it.
Not that his tantrum was acceptable at all. It wasn't. Yes, he did have one toy that was easily played with inside. And it's not at all about how many or what kind of toys we get (all of which we are slowly teaching our children..) But we understood finally what his initial motivation was and what he had been trying to tell us.
I think he was (as all children tend to be) a bit disappointed that there was so little asked for that he actually received. It came out afterwards that he was questioning if he was on the 'naughty list' because of this! Furthermore, the little guy needed toys he could play with- he saw everyone else happily playing with their toys and and try as he might, he had none to play with. Mostly because I wouldn't let him, or wouldn't play with him. Ugh!
It occurred to me, once again in much Christmas glory, that I am so woefully unequipped for parenting sometimes. I am not a perfect mom and I never will be. My only prayer is to not screw them up too bad! Next year's Christmas will be different- not in the toys or amount of gifts... rather in the preparation, in the knowing my children and their needs, and in continuing to try to walk them in the path they should go. Lessons were learned, for all of us, and for that I'm grateful.
I am the most grateful that our Heavenly Father is a bit more qualified parent me. He doesn't set us up for failure (even by accident!), He doesn't not know the best way to teach us a lesson, He doesn't not have any idea about how to handle our disobedience or shortcomings. He is the Good Father, the Best Father, the PERFECT Father.
And I really love that as my Heavenly Father, he gives grace and covers my own imperfections as a mother. Thank you Abba for that!