I know when it’s coming. It’s like a tidal wave rising in the distance, moving in slow motion, preparing to destroy everything in its path. When you see it on the horizon you suddenly realize there’s nowhere to hide – no way to stop it – until finally, it hits you.
The toddler tantrum…
I remember when our oldest daughter had her first public
apocalypse tantrum. We were on a mission. I wanted to buy her a new booster seat we could attach to one of our kitchen chairs and slide under the table. I decided to run by T.J. Maxx to see if they had the coveted seat (note: give me a latte and a kidless walk through “the Maxx’s” aisles of wonder, and I’ll be a new, refreshed mom in no time).
Then I saw it – the pink princess seat in all its glory. I had a plan. Move quickly past the toys, books, and invisible neon signs beckoning my toddler to come hither, retrieve the booster seat, make a mad dash to the register to check out, and make it home just in time for my sweet girl’s nap.
Before I knew what had hit me, my little 18-month-old pitched a fit worthy of an olympic medal! What caused it? Well the simple answer is, a toy I wouldn’t allow her to put in our buggy. She didn’t get what she wanted!
I wish I had something profound and wise to say about my reaction, but since I don’t, I’ll just give you the truth…
I left the store as fast as I could, buckled my flailing child into her car seat, got in my car, closed my eyes and said, “Who is this child, and why is she out to get me?!”
Parenting is humbling to say the least.
As frustrating as these moments are, I find myself empathizing with my children when I see them so visibly battling their flesh. They haven’t learned to “hide” these very real emotions and desires that seem to take us over in an instant. They don’t know how to “fake it” when it comes to acting in a way that doesn’t necessarily reflect the way they feel at the moment.
They are real.
They are vulnerable.
They are sinful.
In my flesh, I can throw a tantrum with the best of them! I want my way, I want to be heard, I want justice, and I want control! How can we win the battle of flesh versus spirit? How can we live life uncontrolled by our emotions? How can we model this way of living to our children?
Paul has much to say about life lived by the spirit rather than life lived gratifying the flesh:
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6
“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” Galatians 5:16
As children of God, His Holy Spirit literally indwells us, and is powerful to produce within us, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
We must choose to deny our flesh, and set our eyes on Christ. When we fill our minds with the truth of God’s Word, focus on things of eternal significance, and ask God to fill us daily with His Spirit, we will begin living life on a higher plain. It is only then we can faithfully pass on this way of living to our children.
How does this idea work practically in parenting?
My greatest desire is to clearly communicate the heart issues behind “bad behavior,” that actions inevitably lead to consequences, and ultimately, how we should respond and live in light of the mercy extended to each of us by our Savior. As parents, we have the God-given responsibility to demonstrate these truths with love, humility, patience and grace…lots of grace – grace for our children and grace for ourselves. Parenting is hard. Growing up and learning about life is hard. Grace gets us through.
A practical example of this in our home is, I try not to carry out punishment without also including loving discussion, hugs, kisses, and ideally, prayer. I’ll be honest, all of those steps sound overwhelming when your child is disobeying you for what seems like the millionth time that day! Sometimes, I’ve found our kids simply need to be removed from certain situations and given time to calm down before discipline can be truly effective. My goal is to walk alongside them, weather the storms together, speak life rather than death – blessings rather than curses – and lovingly guide them to their Savior.
In and of myself, I am nothing short of a failure. But, with God’s Holy Spirit in me, I know I can tread the rough waters of my children’s “flesh on display” with grace, wisdom, and mercy. After all, I’ve been shown nothing less by my Heavenly Father.
*A few profoundly influential books I’ve found in my pursuit of practical, biblical discipline in the home are Tim Kemmel’s “Grace Based Parenting,” Tedd Tripp’s “Shepherding a Child’s Heart,” and Ginger Plowman’s “Don’t Make Me Count to Three!”
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