Responding in grace

Something happened today.  Something that got me thinking.  I was sitting in the floor of my bedroom, trying to put my socks on.  We were getting ready to head out to story time.  Sophia and Abby are playing, of course, while I’m trying to get us all ready.  Sophia put a beaded necklace around my neck, and then started pulling on it and saying that I was her pet frog.  She pulled harder and harder.  I told her not to pull on the necklace.  She pulled harder and harder.  I braced myself so that she wouldn’t pull me over.  The necklace popped. Beads flooded the floor.  She was shocked.

Before I could say anything.  She said, “I’m sorry, Mommy…” She smiled, “I’m so sorry.”

It stopped me dead in my tracks.  I was ready on my heels to bark, “See!  I said stop.  YOU broke it.  Why do you not listen to me?  I told you it would break…”

Instead, I paused.  I looked at her.  I said, “Thank you for saying you’re sorry.  That was an accident, huh?”

Did I let her off easy?  That’s the first time she has ever said, “I’m sorry” without being asked.  It was growth for her.  It was big girl.  It was growth for me, too…. because I wanted to yell at her.  I wanted to be mad that she, not only interrupted my efforts to get dressed, but also broke something in the process because she wasn’t listening. I wanted to be mad at her and show her what happens when she doesn’t listen to me.

But, she will learn that necklaces will break when you pull on them too hard… and she will learn that when they’re broken you can’t play with them anymore.   She will learn that without me yelling at her.  She will learn it for herself.  She will learn it, rather than me forcing her to learn it.  What is she really learning when I yell at her and lecture her?  Careful around Mommy.  One mistake and she’ll snap.

I hate when I get so angry around my kids.  I hate that nothing can set off my temper worse than they can.  I see that it’s my thorn.  It is my every day struggle.  Many days have gone by lately that I haven’t really gotten angry.  I’ve responded with grace to the most outright disobedience with a calm punishment of time-out.  I’ve even calmly given 2, 3 minute time-outs in 7 minutes.  Some days I’m just on.  And, some days I want to lock my kids in their rooms and yell a 5 minute lecture.  I’ve personally decided that I will not spank anymore because I am not able to spank with a clear conscience.  I am angry, and I spank out of anger.

The thing is that my girls are wonderful. They’re loving and sweet, and they want to be sweet so badly.  I have seen my eldest growing up more and more everyday.  She’s starting to take her big sister role more seriously.  She helps me keep Abby away from the oven, and grabs her around the waist when she’s trying to go out the door at a store.  She is listening better, even pointing out when Abby doesn’t listen.  She wants to hold my hand in the parking lots and stores.  She’s learning to control her impulses, too, like the one that says, “Abby has my toy and I want it now.”  I see her look with desire, start to grab, and control herself.

I also see her testing the limits with the most incredible sophistication.  Just this morning, for example: I told her that I would take away what she was playing with if she didn’t play with it the  way she was supposed to.  She backed away from me with the toy, heading downstairs, and said, “Don’t worry about me, Mommy.  Just don’t worry about me.” She’s beginning to understand that I can’t see everything. She’s experimenting with all forms of deception, even lying.  She’s not even 3, yet.  You can imagine that this could spark a short-tempered mommy to react undesirably…

Responding with grace is SO difficult.  It’s a practice.  It’s a choice that has to be practiced, again and again.  I can respond in grace, though.  I can apply consequences with a gracious heart.  I can teach obedience without demanding it. It’s more effective.  My daughter responds better.  We can move on without the guilt and shame of a yelling match.

I’m so glad that my God loves me better than I love my kids.  I’m so glad that he continually responds to me with grace.  This morning when Sophia said, “I’m sorry,” it was if God spoke to me.  It was as if he whispered, “Listen to the little child.  Respond to her as I respond to you.”