My mom has always warned me about age four. I’d heard about the terrible two’s, and now the “three-nager.” But four, four was always the one my mom shook her head at and said, “Just you wait.” She recounts the way she wrestled me down the hall, every limb and digit clawing against the paint, only to put me in my room for time out. She fails at hiding a chuckle as I tell her about the sassy responses and rolled eyes spewing from my own mini-me. I feel her satisfaction as she tells me again how she had asked me to be civil only to have me retort, “If I knew what civil meant, I could be it!” Call them what you will, “Furious Fours”, “Ferocious Fours”… having a four-year-old is living up to all the hype my mom had built. It wasn’t too long ago that I had to say, all too seriously, “You cannot answer me in toots!”
While our newest “milestone” has not taken me by surprise, I cannot say I am celebrating it. Constant arguing and complaining are my sweet daughter’s newest M.O. Seriously, this kid could put The Good Wife and all her cronies to shame. Every meal is eaten with this self-proclaimed food critic. Every outing is narrated by lists of how much she “hates grocery shopping,” or how her legs are far too tired to keep walking.
We have tried everything from losing privileges to time-out to logic (desperate measures, my friends). Nothing has put a dent in this new wall of compulsive arguing and complaining.
A few days ago, while trying desperately to keep my cool in the midst of yet another session of “But moooooooommmmmmmm…” and “Well, actually…” It dawned on me. I quickly googled the phrase floating around in my head and found what I was looking for. Philippians 2:14-15 “Do everything without complaining or arguing. So that you may be blameless and pure.” (Mind you, this is the Abbreviated Mommy Version, not yet published.) I grabbed the orange crayon I had been stepping over all day and quickly scrawled the verse on some paper. We began chanting the verse all day. Every time the whining started to creep up, I would say “Do everything…” and she would finish it. Each time her attitude would change and we would move on without a scene.
In the days following we added another verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all things, this is what God has for you to do.” (again, AMV). It occurred to me that my own complaining heart, my own tendency to argue when I felt God’s direction wasn’t fitting into my plans, grew out of a lack of thankfulness. Are not all things grace? Isn’t this Good Father holding back what could be, what is deserved, and offering us endless grace in its place?
So we are combatting the “grumpies” with thankfulness. When she isn’t deterred from her complaints and argument by remembering God’s words to her, she has to find 3 thank-you’s to replace them. In reminding her to surrender her right to critique and argue, I am learning to surrender as well. Watching her find joy through thankfulness is making me confront my own dissatisfaction and restlessness.
I’m sharing this, not because I think it is a cure-all formula for dealing with your child’s behavior. I am simply realizing what I am sure you all already know: God’s Word is living and breathing, sharp and cutting even to the sin of a discontent four-year-old and her weary mama. We are finding joy together as we train our hearts and eyes away from our lists of criticism towards a shower of graces.
I say this is the surprising way we are combatting the “grumpies”. But it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Aren’t we given this plan in Deuteronomy? “You shall teach them [my words] to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.” (Brackets added; Deuteronomy 11:19)
We are learning to multiply our days instead of simply survive. We are trading our “grumpies” for “thank you’s” because there are deep wells of joy to be explored. God’s Word is a gift to us, meant to shape us and refine our rough edges. I have agonized for months watching my child become angrier and more discontent, feeling like I have already failed at the only job I have- to help guide and shape this tiny human. All the while, forgetting that He has already given me all I need.