Tuesday, November 18, 2014

the donuts made them do it ... and other parenting myths

Welcome back to post number three in my series on parenting. If you missed posts one and two you can find them here and here.

I am currently voice texting as I clean my bathroom, wiping circles of Glass Plus on the mirror with one hand and holding a cell phone right in front of my lips with the other. I will probably have 4000 spelling errors to correct when this is all said and done, but hopefully no bad words to edit out ... (if I were cleaning out my refrigerator that might be a different story. Mwuaahahaha.)

So today's post is going to be about ... drumroll, please ....  toddler tantrums and why they happen.

Quite a deep subject to address in one little blog post, but I'm going to attempt it nonetheless.

This post was inspired (in part) by scenes I have watched play out over the years in many venues :  in grocery stores, in parks, in department stores, in libraries, on playgrounds, you name it. The backdrop may change, but the scene remains the same : Little Johnny or Little Susie is not getting his/her way, and Mommy is trying to quietly intervene. Gentle warnings are issued and perhaps some bribery, but within mere moments it seems, Johnny/Suzie has morphed into a monster. Where previously a small wisp of a child was playing or shopping or reading nicely, a demon now appears to have taken over -one whose screams of rage can be heard for miles around. Despite every effort of Mommy to gain control, Johnny/Suzie must now be physically removed kicking and screaming from the premises, while onlookers look awkwardly away ... or perhaps stare in disbelief.

I hope this does not sound like I have no sympathy for these situations, or that my children have been completely exempt from such behavior.

Quite the opposite is true.

While I am not saying we should accept these situations as parents, I am saying we should - in the toddler years - expect them.

You read that right.

We as parents should expect that our children are going to misbehave.

We should expect that our children are going to : push the limits, push our buttons, push their siblings, push against the guardrails of life.

Because contrary to what popular psychobabble might tell you, children do not arrive in life untainted little angels, halos perched firmly in place, only ruined incrementally by all the little demons they come into contact with upon leaving the thresholds of our homes.

Our children ... brace yourselves ... are born sinners.

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, a very wise person once said several thousand years ago... and not a lot has changed since those words were penned.

Oh, you don't believe me?

Have a baby.

Watch that baby grow.

Soak in every blessed moment of innocence you see in those first fleeting newborn moments, and then watch in wonder as that sweet little bundle of joy turns into a toddler with a mouth. We've had eleven children, and I've witnessed it eleven times - without exception - one of their very first and favorite words in life was ....

NO !

Before that child ever entered a preschool classroom, before he/she ever came into contact with another human being outside his/her immediate family members, he/she knew how to push and shove and scream and throw fits, in an attempt to get his or her way.

Nobody had to teach our children to be bad – it came naturally.

Now I know there are some new moms reading this right now, who would say "oh no, not my little Johnny ! My sweet innocent little baby never ever hit anyone until he saw someone else hit. He was as pure as the wind driven snow, until I sent him out into the big bad world."

I would submit to you that either little Johnny was storing up all of that sin nature for the moment he could best put it to use ... or that you are not being quite honest with yourself. (Kids aren't the only ones prone to lying!)

Because no matter how angelic or sweet natured our little ones start out to be, eventually human nature catches up with all of us. Blame it on Adam and Eve if you like, but it's there.

We've got issues. All of us .

No No no Nonanona no Hayden

Okay, I kid you not - just as I was waxing eloquent on the sin nature in all of us, Hayden decided to prove my point. The above sentence somehow made it into my voice text, just as I was simultaneously reaching for tiny fingers attempting to grab the contents out of the toilet bowl...  so if my previous paragraphs are not proof enough of the nature of kids, perhaps the devilish grin on this face will do it for you.

Any hoot, where was I? Ahhhh, yes - the demons within.

This post is not going to be fraught with easy answers for how to make your children mind.

Rather, my aim today is to maybe get the wheels turning for moms who possibly want to blame their children's bad behavior on any of the following:

other bad children

lack of sleep

too much sleep

a recent sickness

gluten, sugar, preservatives, wheat, Twinkies, lack of vegetables, too many vegetables


ill fitting clothes

a "phase"

or any other combination of the above.

Perhaps you think I'm joking. I wish that were true.

I mentioned earlier, that my real life experiences were part of the inspiration for this post. The final trigger came not from something I personally witnessed, but rather from the testimony of someone else.

A picture on Instagram last year, and the words that accompanied it, were probably the biggest factor in my thinking when it came to this message.

A young mommy of several small children had posted a picture of her child passed out in bed, exhausted from a day of "fit throwing, temper tantrums, etc." And the reason for this bad behavior, according to this very sincere mama - was that he had had too much gluten that day.

According to her, he "knew he shouldn't have eaten those donuts," but he had tasted the poisoned apple so to speak ... or rather the poisoned donut… and as a result his little system was overwhelmed and he had zero control. It was not his fault, you see, that he displayed such horrible temper tantrums, causing great grief to his family and those around him. It was those derned donuts!

I'm taking a big risk here on A Perfect Lily... I do know that.

In today's post modern society, where actions and accountability are lightyears apart, where words like sin and disobedience and choices and discipline and standards are ancient and archaic and old fashioned and just so last-century ... this little post is going to probably offend some.

Because we are SO MUCH SMARTER these days, donthca know ? We've figured this whole human nature thing out after all these years, and it is not our kids' fault that they are misbehaving, it is the derned donuts.

or preschool.

or teachers.

or playmates.

or candy.

or bedtime (too early).

or bedtime (too late).

or the babysitter.

or the other parent.

or the nintendo.

or the dog. (he ate the homework, so why not blame the other stuff on him too ??)

But guess what ?

You could fix every single one of those things I just mentioned - and then some - and you are still going to have a child who lies. Who throws temper tantrums. Who says no. Who refuses to leave the library when it's time to go.

Why ???

Because we are sinners.

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.

Nobody had to teach them to be that way, nobody had to demonstrate it for them, they didn't learn it on the playground- they were born with it.

And until we as parents recognize that it's there without any outside help, we will not deal with it correctly.

We will keep playing the blame game until they leave our homes one day - and we may even keep playing it after that.

But as a seasoned mama to eleven sin-prone people, I am here to tell you that the problem isn't without ---- it's within.

And until we as parents are willing to face that truth, we will continue to look for the demon in the toy box. Or the refrigerator. Or the playground. Instead of recognizing the sometimes difficult truth, that our children have an incredible capacity to do wrong.


I remember 26 years ago when I had to face this truth with my firstborn son.

Somehow my blond haired, blue eyed little angel of an infant had - practically overnight - morphed into a child I hardly recognized. He went from being our sweet little cherub, to a fit-throwing monster, whose ultimate goal in life (it appeared) was to cross every boundary we put in front of him.

If we said it was black, it was white. If we said don't touch that, he touched it. If we said stay in your carseat, he wanted out. If we said it's time to get out of the car, he refused to budge. If we went to a store to shop, he wanted to run and hide. If it was time for dinner, he wanted to play. If it was time to play, he wanted to eat. If it was time to get up for church, he wanted to sleep in. If it was a day when I could sleep in, he wanted to get up and play at the crack of dawn. LOUDLY.

I kid you not, I started looking for demons in our toy box. I read a book on that subject (pretty sure it was called that very thing) and I blamed his behavior on the Ninja Turtles. We threw them out with a vengeance. Someone else told me about the evils of sugar, and we stopped spooning it onto his Cheerios. If the Gluten Police had been around back then, I am absolutely 100% certain I would have dumped every box of cereal and pasta and bag of bread in our house faster than you can say Paleo Solved All My Problems. I was that desperate for a cure.

It took a trip to Costco with a very straight-forward friend to wake me up to the fact that my child had not somehow mysteriously become infected with a demon overnight ... he had simply turned two.

We were leaving the store and headed back to our car, when my darling boy stood up in the shopping cart with a twinkle in his eye and an I-dare-you-to-stop-me grin on his face. I told him to sit down nicely, because he might fall out if he didn't (just speak softly and reason with your child was my motto), when he very loudly and defiantly told me NO !!!

I smiled at my little cherub, who quite honestly still managed to look adorable with that wicked smile on his face (don't ALL firstborn children look adorable to their star-struck parents???) and looked at my friend for affirmation. She was a mommy of three, so surely she could relate. Surely she thought my little boy was every bit as darling as I did, and this little display of rebellion was just as innocent as the little cherub who was displaying it.

But the words that came out of her mouth were not the ones I expected to hear.

"You better deal with that right now Patti, because what you think is so cute at two is NOT going to be cute at sixteen."

Dear friends - her words hit me upside the head like a sledgehammer.

They were not pleasant to hear.

What I had been downplaying and accepting and blaming on other things for so many weeks (maybe months) was not cute to someone else. And had I let that bad behavior continue unchecked for the duration of several years, had I continued down the path of "he's tired" or "he had too much sugar today" or "he's picking that up from the playground" or "it's just a phase he's going through" ... I shudder to think what that very strong-willed little boy would be like today.

That wake-up call caused me to sort through all the parenting philosophies that were floating around in my twenty-two year old brain, and forced me to seek out wisdom from those around me who had been down this path before. I began to read books on parenting and boundaries, and started to implement strategies to help my strong-willed child by helping to mold his will (not break it, but shape it) so that one day he would be just as driven to do good as he was to push the limits as a toddler. I prayed and asked God to give me grace and help and wisdom in parenting, and I asked Sam to pray with me as well. I watched families around me who had well-behaved children, and I talked to those moms and gleaned from their experience. I was careful what I listened to and who I listened to, and I made up my mind that even if being a strict parent was not popular, I was going to stick to my guns. I read the Bible. Shocking, I know. But there I found profound and time-tested wisdom on training up a child in the way he should go, and I determined that no matter what Dr. Sears or Oprah or the latest child psychology books said - if it contradicted the word of God, I was not going to embrace it.

I made up my mind that I was going to stop playing the blame game, and face the facts that the perfect little person God had entrusted me with was just as flawed as the rest of us. I stopped looking for someone or something to blame for the sin nature that resided within my child, and I began to trust that time and loving, consistent discipline - along with lots and lots of prayer - was going to help my son blossom into a kind and generous and well behaved young man.

Which, I might add, it did ....

jason today, with his wonderful family :)

And now it is nighttime, and a new generation of little people are calling me over to a rousing game of Boggle . Tune in next time when we discuss How To Play a Family Game and Still Remain Friends.

Lots of love,

Patti xoxo


Naomi said...

Great post Patti!!

Coraly said...

Oh thank you. I needed to be reminded of this. My 5 year old has been battling a cold and I have used that to make excuses for her poor behavior rather than to seize those moments as course correction opportunity to point her back to Jesus.

crystalkupper said...

Love these words. I have friends who blame every bad behavior from their children on red dye. Seriously. And while I completely believe in a healthy diet, it makes me want to scream.

EN said...

Intriguing and honest and perfect! Thank you, Patti. Parents of young ones need more timeless wisdom like this!

Bethany Eicher said...

I agree wholeheartedly! Thank you for having the courage to put it out there!

Kathy McElhaney said...

I remember my mom and grandma (her mother-in-law) getting into over my brother. He was probably 4 and was acting like it. When my mom disciplined him, grandma wasn't happy. See, Rod was a hemophiliac, so that surely covered any wrong he would do. Thankfully, grandma went home and mom and dad continued disciplining. My brother was loved by so many and it wouldn't have been the case without a strong parenting hand.

I, on the other hand, needed even more discipline! As the baby of 4, I proved my mom wrong on many occasions. "None of my children bite." Until Kathy... "None of my children throw tantrums." Until Kathy... who would sit on the floor and scream "mad, mad, mad!"

No, Mom wasn't my best friend when I ten, but her CONSISTENCY made the difference. As a teenager, I knew I was wasting my time trying to change her mind. No amount of begging in the world was going to change a no to a yes. I owe who I am to a great mother.

Excellent post, Patti!

Unknown said...

Love this! Thanks for sharing. :)

katrynka said...

Fabulous post!!! People need to learn this, there are a LOT of monsters being loosed on the world today.

Jessi said...

You have no idea how much this post is exactly my son at this very moment. As much as I appreciated the post, I wish it came with a magical list of exactly what will work and how much time it takes so that I don't end up shipping him off.....I kid....but not really. :)

Anonymous said...

Hayden is so cute!! haha. reminds me of my 17 month old nephew.

Danielle said...

So good!

Anonymous said...

So very well said. :) Every word was true!

cara said...

I love your wise advice Patti!!! I can totally relate to your firstborn story as well. Our firstborn son had big blue eyes with angelic locks of curls. People would even say he looked like an angel. But he was anything but that, ha! The first day he came out, he was screaming so much that the doctor let us know we had one strong willed child. And that was only the beginning. We were young, new parents. But we did have The Lord, and we did like you. We gleaned from others, prayed, read, etc. I think he was around four when we really began understanding more about loving, consistent discipline. I am so grateful. He is 15 now, and he is a blessing that loves his family. God is good! :) We have to depend upon Him.
I like your point about how if we take all the junk out of their diets, they are still sinners. I have one child that does seem to react to color dyes, sugar, etc. I have not noticed such reactions with any other kids. But with none of the junk, she is still a sinner, ha. And she always needs consistent discipline!
Thank you! xoxoxo

Katherine said...

Very very timely for me Patti!! I needed this advice! Can you recommend some good books you've read on parenting/discipline?

Unknown said...

this is great! I bet you get a ton of compliments on how well-behaved your children are. Funny that we get those compliments, yet no one wants to hear how we attain these well-behaved children ;) and this isn't to say they're *always* behaved, because that's SO far from the truth :)

Unknown said...

this is great! I bet you get a ton of compliments on how well-behaved your children are. Funny that we get those compliments, yet no one wants to hear how we attain these well-behaved children ;) and this isn't to say they're *always* behaved, because that's SO far from the truth :)

Joy said...

I totally agree! (Although I would add that if you want your kids to behave, say, on a plane for four hours, don't give them a bag of M&M's before take-off). I'm getting tired of people playing the blame-it-on-the-food game. I have a friend who has severely limited the food her kids eat, to the point that I think she might have a problem, for weird reasons. Sorry if that sounds judgmental, but last time I saw her, I took a bag of popcorn (because gluten and numerous other foods were no-nos)Her 12-year-old said, "Oh, I can't eat that. It makes me moody." Ummm.... Okay? There are legitimate food allergies, yes, but "moodiness" in a 12-year-old being caused by corn?
Then this friend told me about how her 2-year-old threw tantrums when he had corn products. I seriously laughed out loud.
Anyway, this is getting off on a tangent, but yes, let's expect it but deal with it!

Ashley said...

I do like this post-we talk to our three girls all the time about choices and consequences. Throwing a fit is a guarantee that you will not get what you want, and being removed from the dining room for screaming about what you do and don't want to eat means you have made the choice to sit in your room while the rest of us eat dinner, and to continue having the same meal until you have tried every item. However.

I will say that there are also times when I see a parent with a misbehaving child at the grocery store at 10:30 pm (my favorite time to go since it's quiet and I can shop childless!) and I know that even though the child is being difficult, it is also the fault of the parent for having a 3 year old out on a Tuesday when they are completely exhausted.

I do also have a child who complained from a stomachache after dinner every night-we thought she was trying to get out of eating her dinner, but it ended up she did have severe gluten intolerance and now that she is gluten free, she has a wonderful appetite and eats a great variety of foods for a 7 year old.

We are sinners, for sure, and we are the parents of sinners (even an angelic looking one with an extra chromosome) but I do think there needs to be some space for saying that parents are responsible for creating an environment where the child has the ability to make the right choice.

Patti said...

Totally agree !