Monday, October 17, 2011

Toddlers and Trade-Offs

Being a parent means often accepting periods of extreme difficulty in exchange for periods of reward. Sometimes the difficult periods are pretty even exchanges with the rewarding periods. For example, I regularly have a one- to two-hour battle of the wills with my 2-year-old at the beginning of nap time, but then I get a two-hour respite while he sleeps. In other words, it’s a fairly even exchange.

Sometimes the difficult periods are considerably longer than the periods of reward, but the rewards are more intense. For example, when my two-month-old wakes up at 3am and wants to play after she eats, but she gives me that heart-melting grin while I dandle her on my knee. That gummy grin is easily worth the lost hour of sleep. Again, it’s a fairly even exchange despite the disparity of time.

But sometimes the difficult period is short and the reward is long, and those are the moments that make it all worthwhile. This morning I took my son to his gymnastics class, and the first five minutes or so of class were an absolute disaster. He was wailing and squirming, shouting over the teacher, running amok through the gym, knocking other children out of his way as I chased after him. But once I caught him and forced him to sit and watch the teacher and the other children, he calmed down, and the rest of the 45-minute class was pure pleasure for both of us. He paid attention as the teacher walked through each obstacle course. He tried hard to do all the activities. He waited his turn (most of the time) and didn’t push any of the other kids (intentionally, at least). At one point, after mastering a difficult apparatus, he even called over to the teacher, “Hey, Adrian! I did it!” He did such a good job that after class I let him explore the collection of construction trucks in the parking lot. He stood in the bucket of the diggers, clambered a few steps up the ladders to the cabs, poked his fingers in the sand stuck in the buckets, and patted the giant tires and treads. And when I told him it was time to go home, he obediently held my hand and trotted over to the car. It was a rich reward for both of us.

I’ve only been a parent for two years, but I suspect that all of parenting consists of this kind of trade-off. No doubt there will be many battles over doing homework that are rewarded by good grades. There will be battles over chores and rewards of responsibility. There will be battles over clothes and manners and friends and activities, and there will be rewards of good taste, good manners, good friends, and good choices. There will be battles over bad behavior, and rewards of good character.

When my children are grown, I plan to look back over my parenting journey and be able to say, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have remained faithful.” (Timothy 4:7) It is a good fight, it is worth finishing the race, and the faithfulness is what makes it all worthwhile.

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