“ You must be a compliant parent.”
With a sheer bit of self will, my face torqued a smile and I walked away.
Compliant. Meaning Acquiescient. Which means- ready to accept something without protest, or to do what someone else wants.
Was it true? Was I a compliant parent?
I reflected on the past month. If there was one word that could sum it up, it would be LOUD. Very loud. Sleepless. And forceful. Inconsolable howling. Head banging. Climbing on tables and countertops and out of cribs. Flinging oneself on the fridge door demanding a drink, only to intentionally pour every bit of it onto the kitchen floor. I spent most of the month on my knees with my eyes down- either to wipe the floors or to pray. What had happened to this easygoing, mild baby who slept through the nights and was always so ready to ride in her sister’s caboose?
Two years ago, I had seen this before. It was the terrible, I mean, terrific twos.
They say that if you don’t label it “terrible”, it would never happen. It’s all in the mind. Or was it?
Our little one fell ill, recovered, but as if the illness had stolen her easy charm and placid personality, she remained unbearably stubborn, painfully willful, and tediously refractory. The nights became dreadful, filled with inconsolable howling for hours at a time, mostly between two to four in the morning. She’d crawl out at six, and we’d all feel like we’d been in boot camp all month.
After a month and a half of this temper-trying, will-testing behavior, my body, holding up consecutive nights of broken rest, began to protest. A familiar depression started to creep in. I knew I had to take action.
One morning, after a savage night, my firstborn hugged me before squealing with glee, “Mama! Look! A rainbow!”
True enough, in the distance, a beautiful arc of promise shone in the sun. I smiled weakly. A reminder of divine promises.
Yet, I felt tried.
In my fatigue, I lost self will in reigning in self blame. Perhaps this is my fault. I’m a “compliant parent.” The words echoed in my head endlessly. I “caused” our children’s tantrums.
Something must be wrong with how I am raising them.
That afternoon, our pediatrician, a mentor of mine since my medical school days called. I jumped, knowing how extremely busy she is, and knowing how prized her advice would be.
As she shared from her wealth of experience as an expert and a mother of four children, one of whom was tough as nails as a child, I felt unspeakably grateful.
Yet, the terrific outbursts continued.
Two days later, I received a text message from a distant friend from church- a sweet mother whom I had not talked to for more than a year.
“Hey Wai Jia! How’re you? I keep getting reminded of this dream I had about 2 weeks ago. So I thought I’d better heed the nudging to text you!
In my dream, my husband and I were visiting your family. We were on a balcony, and as we looked up, there was this huge rainbow in the sky, a complete rainbow. And then, somehow, your whole house started rotating. It was like revolving round and round. In my dream, you were standing at the dining table with one of your daughters, and you weren’t affected by the movement at all. You just looked up and smiled and said “Oh we’re used to it”.
This is my interpretation of the dream: the rainbow would be a sign of God’s promise and faithfulness. And the revolving home.. that God will see to it that you and your family will keep steady even if the world around you seems like it’s spinning!”
In my bleary eyed, emotionally and physically depleted state, I read the text with tears, yesterday’s sleep still weighing on the corners of my eyes.
The words, “I’m used to it” sent goosebumps down my spine- only God would know the words I used!
For weeks I had been discouraged by well meaning comments like “your children are this way because you breastfed for waaay too long” and “if you don’t believe in the terrible twos it will not happen to you.” But I did not share this with anyone who could have told this mother what I was going through.
The anguish of the peak of the terrible, yes terrible, terrible twos were only on the walls of my heart and living room walls.
It was God who knew and sent her message and dream as a reminder that He is mindful of ALL our challenges as a parent, and no matter what, He remains our ultimate Father, giving us hope and promise.
The same mother recommended me “The New Strong Willed Child” by James Dobson and it turned out to be a lifesaver. For the first time, I felt understood and validated, instead of guilty and ashamed. For once, I didn’t feel alone! Finally, someone understood that children come in different packages, and their strong-willed personalities do not reflect our incompetence.
Yet, I learnt important skills and tools that had immediate effect, and gave me the confidence to train our strong-willed firstborn and even stronger-willed second-born, to shape their wills while nurturing their spirits.
The book says:
“There is a tendency, I think, for parents of strong-willed children to feel cheated and oppressed because other moms and dads seem to have smooth sailing with their children, while they are at war every day of the week. But if they can perceive their task as a God-given assignment and believe that He’s going to help them to fulfill it, then the frustrations become more manageable… Kids do grow up, and you’ll find out later that the values and principles that you tried so hard to instill were actually going inside and sticking.”
Darlene Cunningham, wife of Founder of YWAM, said that it is often strong-willed children who end up changing the world.
I look at my four year old firstborn now, a picture of obedience and reminisce on the war-torn days of me pinning her down to the ground at a public stairwell in Canada when she was two years ago old and while I was in my third trimester because she wanted to throw herself into a blizzard without a coat on. I know what the book says is true.
But even more so, I know the Lord’s promises are, and if we keep on keeping on, we will reap the harvest due, in His good time.
And on that day, I will look up, and smile at the rainbow indeed.
Special thanks to Cliff, for being the bestest husband and parent a wife could ever ask for. I couldn’t ask for a better co-laborer than you. Happy birthday!