I just put my 23-month old to bed without the usual hugs and kisses and songs. We sat in silence aside from my usual prayer, which carried even more weight tonight than usual:
Lord, thank You for this day. Thank you for the grace You’ve given us to be obedient, and thank You for the grace that covers us when we are not obedient. Father, help us rest well tonight and help us be even more obedient tomorrow.
I’m not sure exactly where I came up with this prayer, and I don’t mean to take credit for it but I don’t recall reading or hearing anything like it before. I started praying this with Littlefoot a few months ago, and I suppose it was around the time that obedience was becoming a real issue. I didn’t mean for this to be a routine prayer, but it came so often to my heart at bedtime since it was usually after some sort of battle: pick up your toys, don’t throw food, sit in the bath, don’t clamp down on the toothbrush, don’t run off. Some nights we go through all of these; most nights by the grace of God we only battle on a couple things. I say “battle”, but it’s not exactly an equal match. He gives me fits and I have to come up with the appropriate response: “No, you don’t get a story tonight because you ran off instead of choosing a story”; “I’m taking away your cup because you keep spitting your milk”; “Mommy has to hold you while we brush teeth because you won’t stand still on the stool”. Common sense. Still, not really pleasant for either of us.
Tonight, my boy was disrespectful. I will redirect and have empathy for a multitude of misbehavior, but when he looks right at me and does the exact opposite of what I instructed him to do with an “I dare you to do something” look on his face, I know that giving a second chance is no longer an option. Clearly, by that point I have given too many second chances and he is testing my authority.
This was very difficult for me. I’m coming up on 35 weeks of pregnancy; it’s been a long week of sleepless nights due to coughing, cramps, and general discomfort. I really could see myself just heaving a big sigh and giving up on him picking up his toys while he ran around like a monkey on speed and I did it for him. I had already given him two spankings, the first one somewhat effective (he obeyed for a full two minutes after the spanking) and the second one seeming to precipitate his outright defiance. Maybe it was a “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” moment for him as he realized the spanking was over quickly and there was not really anything I could do more than that . . . or so he thought. When Littlefoot threw his toys off the shelf in direct response to my telling him to put a toy on the shelf, I did actually start to sigh. There was a moment of hesitation, of feeling like there was nothing more I could do.
But by the power of God alone I did not give up. I snatched Littlefoot up off the ground and practically flew upstairs to his room. Shock quickly gave way to crying as he realized this was punishment; but though I was acting quickly and with a certain toughness, I was not rough with him. I put him in pajamas and set him down feet-first in his crib, and while he ugly-cried at me I got down to his level and said evenly, strongly, not yelling but not mildly, “You are going to bed now because you were disobedient. You did not pick up your toys like Mommy asked. I am going to leave you here while I finish picking up your toys.” And I left while he cried. And it was hard to do this.
I took deep breaths while I picked up the rest of his toys. I pondered warming a glass of milk for him and decided I could not give mixed messages. He had already eaten, so he should be fine to go to bed. I drank some water and went back upstairs to a silent room, a completely still Littlefoot lying face-first in his bed. “Littlefoot?” I asked. He did not move. I gently put my hand on his back and he looked up at me with tear-stained cheeks, unsure why I had come back. “Do you want to sit and talk with me?” I asked. He nodded and got up, and we sat for a minute. I reiterated why he was put to bed. He pouted and nodded understanding. I asked him if he wanted to try and be obedient now, and he nodded enthusiastically. “Okay, now we are going to brush teeth, read a story, and go to bed.” That is our normal bedtime routine. I really wanted to do the normal routine with him, even though he had been disobedient, because I feel like he is too young to associate going to bed with punishment.
So we tried again for obedience, and failed again. He ran off. Straight to the litter box. I did not give warnings or second chances. I told him “off limits”, picked him up, and in relative silence took him to the bathroom and held him while I brushed his teeth. As I carried him briskly past the bookshelf and he pointed, I told him firmly, “No, you do not get a story tonight because you were disobedient.” No argument from him, only a whimper of acknowledgment.
Since I had already dressed him for bed, we just went straight to the chair we usually sit in for cuddles and story and a little singing, but tonight there were no warm hugs and kisses, only a gentle and firm support as he sat on my lap. I let him relax on me and did not withhold affection from my touch, but I did not melt back into him like I normally do. This was difficult.
After sitting in silence for a little while, I prayed. And I cried. I could not help but cry, knowing how much grace was being extended to me in that moment, knowing that here I was, uncertain and aching to raise this boy to be the strong, gentle man of integrity of his namesake, yet not knowing if I was even capable of showing the sort of grace God shows, the grace that says My compassion is new every morning. And I felt Littlefoot relax that much more into my arms as I wept. I felt his own sadness emanating from him, the beginnings of remorse, the stirrings of conscience. And though I don’t know what I’m doing as a parent, I know that God is using me.
God is using me, all my brokenness and stumbling and faltering and imperfection. He gives me strength to do the hard things. I know I’ve said it in bold and italics, but it bears repeating: this was a hard night. I hated to put my child to bed without snuggles and songs and a story. I’m not writing this because I need validation; I’m writing this because I need to remember: God gives grace.
I know I’m pregnant as all get out and hormones are raging so furiously in me that I’m crying over things that haven’t even happened. I’m raw, and that is also why I’m writing, because there will be so few times in my life that I am this emotionally honest. The arrogant, despicable, dying version of myself would like to say this all was just in a day’s work. I may one day try to frame this story as The Day Mama Won Big. But right now, even though I am soaking in such grace — swimming in it, really, it’s so huge — I don’t feel like I’ve won a battle against my Littlefoot. I feel like I’ve been gifted a rare and beautiful chance to be part of a hard and holy work of God — a chance that is only rare because I so often put on my own armor instead of His. I come to discipline with truckloads of advice from blogs and books and videos. I arm myself with knowledge, with nerves of steel, with a will of iron. I stand up tall against my three-foot mirror and say, “You may outsmart me but you will never out-will me.”
But tonight, I had no advice. I had no tricks up my sleeve. I had nothing but the grace of God and my own childhood experiences to guide me, which is really just another grace of God if you think about it. What amazing, marvelous grace of God that my mom disciplined her children. She did not do it perfectly but she did it well, and with heart.
So I guess this is my Mother’s Day post. Since I’m pretty terrible at endings, I’ll just share a picture that encouraged me this morning to trust in God and His ways on this sometimes difficult, always rewarding journey of motherhood: