“I’m not going to be your friend any more!”
My daughter, four, is rolling away from me, her platinum hair a tangled veil as she kicks her legs to fend off the pants I am trying to pull up her squirming legs.
“I know you’re upset that you can’t play with your Legos anymore, but it’s time to go to lunch,” I say, hovering over her, using my superior size to push a foot into one pantleg.
She kicks harder. Her jaw is set, her eyes hooded and dark. “No!” she yells.
I sit back and take a breath. I hate forcing her to do what I want. Then I remember my old stand-by: when you want compliance, use humor. I take her blush-pink pants and position the waistband around my head, like a hat.
“Oh, good,” I say, letting out my breath, as if in relief. “Because I really like my new hat.” I cup my chin and turn my head from side to side, showing it off. “Don’t you like my new pink hat?”
Her expression shifts almost instantly.
“No!” she yells, but this time she is giggling. She scrambles up on all fours and comes at me, grabbing for the legs that dangle on either side of my ears. “That’s not your hat. Those are my pants!”
While she clutches her pants to her chest I go for her socks. “But what about my new mittens? Don’t you like them? Don’t they match my outfit perfectly?” I too, am giggling now.
All of the energy Quinn was using just moments ago to defy my plans has been redirected to her smile and her laugh and her new task: putting on her clothes as fast as she can before I can steal them away. I watched, amazed, as she dresses herself. Moments later, she stands up, ready to go, a shy smile on her face.
* * *
Perhaps it’s heretical to say that I think I know how God feels sometimes, but that’s what parenting has done for me. Like God, I could use my greater strength to force compliance, but I (hope I) never will. Like God, I see my children’s world from above and that change has shifted my perspective dramatically. As a child, I loved my parents because they loved me. As a parent, I love my children simply because they exist.
And my children take advantage of this, of course. They do maddening things. They throw forks at me when all I’m trying to do is get them to eat the food that’s good for them. They spit on the floor when I tell them they’ve had enough TV for the day. (At least she’s not spitting at me, I tell myself.) By the end of the day this kind of behavior wears me down, makes me wonder if I’m doing a good job raising these little beasts. (Does God ever feel this way? I wonder.) But deep down I know that my parenting skills have little to do with my daughter’s outbursts. Her reactions to my limit-setting are developmentally appropriate. The fact that she rebels means she is growing and developing a healthy sense of self.
It stuck me one day that perhaps God sees my tantrums in just this way.
I didn’t ask to be born! This planet sucks. What a terrible idea! I yell at God, when I am overcome by the state of suffering in my world, and in the world in general. Later, when the emotions have subsided, I am disappointed by my lack of trust. When will you stop being so bratty? I ask myself. What are you, a teenager?
Then I look into my daughter’s scowling face as I tell her it’s time to stop painting and wash up for dinner, and I have a blaze of insight. Well, actually… maybe I am a teenager – a spiritual teenager. When it comes to the maturity of my faith, maybe my reactions to life are developmentally appropriate. I have a lot of growing up to do, and besides, God doesn’t expect me to take everything in stride if for no other reason than I don’t have His perspective. Perhaps, perhaps, He even enjoys my spunk. After all, He loves me, unconditionally, simply because I exist. And He knows that no matter how much I protest, getting dressed and facing the day is something I need to learn how to do. I bet, if given the chance, He’d even stick a pair of pants on His head teach me how.