Friday, 8 February 2013

The tantrum queen

Morning, Lord.

Well, I absolutely haven't got anything helpful or uplifting to say this morning. I haven't got any insights or messages or ideas to communicate. I'm not here to encourage or inspire or any of that today. Just haven't got anything. 

Father, what am I supposed to do about my youngest daughter?  She is beautiful, clever, funny, charming, articulate, affectionate, helpful and loving, and she has the most breathtaking temper. She throws tantrums that would stun you. 

Well, I suppose nothing stuns you. Nothing surprises you, does it?  You know her inside out and you love her very, very much. Lord if I could just sneak a look inside her head for ten minutes sometime, surely it would help me cope with these tantrums, would it? I just don't know what to do. 

I'm following all the advice that I can get. We've tried star charts to earn rewards, we've tried deducting pocket money from £1 in 2p increments (10p for a tantrum; the week's not over and Katy's down to 8p) I've tried taking toys away (she still loses the ones she throws) and I've tried taking her to her room and leaving her there, which is only possible if we are a) at home and b) have lots of time. Nothing has made any difference, and you know how we've tried. Some tantrums I can head off, if I see them coming, but what about the ones that are because she's been told, 'No'? 

The other day she wanted a biscuit at bedtime just after she'd cleaned her teeth. No. I thought she might grumble, or whine, or even (happens occasionally) just shrug as if to say, 'Oh well, I tried'. Nope, this time: light blue touch-paper and retire to a safe distance. 

She screamed, she hit, she kicked, she pulled at me, she pulled the bedclothes off the bed, she threw her pyjamas, slippers and water bottle across the room and she swiped things off the bedside table. I left her on her own and went into the bathroom. She beat on the door, so I turned the lock. She hammered on the door and kicked it so hard that it flew open, hit me on the back of the head and bounced back, trapping her bare toe underneath it. 

Her furious screams changed instantly to howls of pain as her big toe nail had been torn and pulled back by the door. Her toe was sort of scuffed, but the blood was coming from the nail bed. 

Ahh. My anger dissolved, I scooped her up and held her on my lap as she wailed. The injury scared her, but still she was on about the biscuit. Still no. With poorly foot in one hand she thumped the bed and myself until she was worn out. 

What on earth do I do? It's so hard to control my own temper when this happens. I struggle to keep my voice from rising to banshee volume myself and I itch to manhandle her and give her a good smack. How can that possibly help? Katy, you're not allowed to hit, but Mummy is...? And yet I find myself thinking that this is exactly what would have happened to me if I behaved like that. What have I done to my daughter; how have I brought her up that she behaves like this?

And yet I know that it's something that some children do. I know from recent conversations that in this respect Katy's not unique.  From the moment we brought her home from the hospital she had something different about her; sometimes, when she cried, there was a fury in her crying that could frighten her big sister (then 20 months). Elizabeth would recoil in fear and start to cry herself when Katy was angry. Slowly we learned to distinguish Katy's hungry or tired or sad crying from her 'I Am Not Happy' cry. She would go red and scream so loudly that she coughed. Perhaps we should have known that she'd be the tantrum queen. 

So why? She's just made like that? A combo of genes that's so different from Elizabeth's? Both her daddy and I have tempers; and indeed when I'm in a rage I too have the urge to throw things and slam doors. I have been known... so maybe it's not so surprising. Most of the time these days I've got a grip on it. Grown up tantrums just look different, don't they? We might not stamp and sweep the things off the bedside table (though we might...) but we might throw around words that hurt or looks that bruise or hit back with petulant cancellation of nice plans or sweeping generalisations that can crush. I have been guilty of all those things. 

Lord Jesus, I once asked you for patience. You blessed me with two small children so that I could learn it. I don't know that I'm doing very well. I love them so, so much, and yet taking care of them is the hardest thing I have ever, will ever, could ever do. I am so often at a loss. So often so completely out of my depth, and they're only five and seven. How on earth will I cope with the teenage years? With two girls in a world so different from the one in which I grew up?

I feel defeated by it, today. Don't know why - I always blame it on being tired, but I slept well last night. Had a dream that an old man was showing me a book, and it was a commentary on the Bible book of Revelation. Was that a sign from you, Lord? Should I nip over to Amazon right now? 

But I'm off the point. Amazon is enough of a distraction. Talk to me about Revelation later, will you? 

Father, you are a parent. I don't suppose Jesus ever had tantrums, did he? Ever throw his cutlery at Mary? Ever sweep Joseph's tools off the work bench in a temper? No, thought not. What would you do?

Love her. Alright, that's a given. I don't stop loving her. I really don't. I look at her as she drags on my clothes and kicks my leg and beats her hands on my hip and I don't like her very much, but I don't ever, ever stop loving her. 

So if Jesus never threw a wobbly, where does your experience with tantrums come from? 

Ah. Ahh. 

I walked into that. 

You're giving me that look. That look that says, 'Ha. The penny drops.'

Get the log out of my own eye before I try to remove the splinter from Katy's? Is that it? Well it's not fair. Hers is a log too. It is!

Hmm. So here I am, I'm railing at you and accusing you of unfairness or favouritism (just as Katy does to me - see? Nothing changes).

Do you look at me with compassion and pity as I wail and clutch at my injuries when the door I hammered on bounces back to hurt me? Do you quietly help me pick up the pieces when I throw my pride-and-joy Lego model on the floor in a temper and then grieve over the loss of it? 

You don't shout back. You don't hit or scream or cause lightning to strike me dead because you're angry and fed up of me. No, you are peaceful because you are peace. You are calm because you invented the concept. 

You could calm the storm if you wanted, but sometimes you let it rage. You don't intervene, you let me wear myself out with the internal shouting and the static in my head and the inability to rein myself in or the refusal to come and tell you about it. And then, when my angry tears give way to tears of pain, or self-pity, or remorse, there you are with a hanky and a cuddle. 

Is that it? Is that my job? To ride out the tantrums I can't avoid? To be there, just the same, loving, loving, forgiving and loving some more? 

But there are so many practical considerations too. It's not an abstract concept, Lord. She damages things, including people, she makes messes, she hurts herself. It's not only about standing by calmly with a beatific expression of love and unruffledness until she's ready for a reassuring hug, but hey, maybe that's a start. When we need to leave for school, or when we're in a shop, or when big sister can't get far enough away and she's worried by Katy's outbursts, I need another strategy. 

I need that patience that you've had me work on. I'm not there yet. I need to keep my own temper well under control. I need some inner peace that can't be scuffed and crumpled up by small fists that seek to destroy it. I need to keep things in perspective; this thrashing creature yanking my scarf into a noose is the same loving little girl who wrote me a note telling me that I was the bestest Mummy in the world and who stroked my arm when she found me in tears over a sentimental clip on YouTube. I need to remember how much I love her. 

She's looking to me to help her because she's lost control of herself. The last thing that will help is me losing my own control. That will just make things worse on so many levels. I need self-control. I need gentleness and self control. 

Ah. Do you spot a theme?  I do. Reluctantly.
'But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.'
Galations 5:22-23
So here's the thing. I need more of you. I am not up to this. Left to myself I will shout back, be rough and angry, irrational and, yes, even cruel. I will say things I don't mean, hit back, if not with blows, with words. I will threaten and crush and be generally the last thing you had in mind when you said, 
'Let your gentleness be evident to all.'
Philippians 4:5
Lord, I need you. I notice that the next words after this short quote from Philippians are:
'The Lord is near.'
Lord, be near next time Katy throws one. So near that you might nudge me. Hold up a warning finger when I go to shout back, when I reach to jostle her into her coat. When I look at her with coldness and rage in my eyes. Don't, please, don't let me respond in a way that makes things worse, that leaves scars on her little soul. Let me soothe when soothing is possible and necessary, let me heal when she'll let me heal, let me comfort when she needs comfort. I can do those things. And before that, when the storm is raging and I fear for my doors and my shins and my sanity, hold me close and let my gentleness be evident to all like yours is.

Is that possible? 

With me, no. I know it isn't. I'm not built that way. But you - you can do the impossible. 

Today I cried about Katy's tantrums. I'm crying about my own inadequacy as a mother too. My own lack of resources to change things, my own flawed responses and mixed messages, my hopes and fears and dreams for the women that my daughters will grow into and the crushing worry that I am not helping and guiding them and setting the example that I should.

I can't do it, but you can. Heal any wounds that I've inflicted, will you? Put right any damage that I've done. Guide them where I fail to. Equip me to be the mother you want me to be - the mother that you thought I could be when you entrusted these two little people into my care. You thought that I was the best mummy for my two girls. Help me hang onto that on the days when I think that the neighbour's cat could do a better job than I do. Help me to learn to live up to your faith in me.

Lord Jesus, help me with this thing that I'm sure is small in the eternal scheme of things but is looming large in our house at the moment, as Katy's pocket money pot looks emptier and emptier and we're all warier and wearier. 

Thank you for calming me down. 
Thank you for being there, always the same, always gentle. 

Draw me closer to you so that some of you rubs off on me, please, Father God.


  1. I can really relate to this, I'm going through something like this with my own daughter. Like you, I keep praying for wisdom and patience. I'm still just trying to figure out the balance between positive reinforcement, getting to the route of the anger, while making it clear the behaviour is not okay.. challenging!

    Thank you for sharing this, and just for being open.

  2. I feel for you, Helen. We've all had similar moments when we wonder how to get it right and just why are these little ones so capable of sending us into orbit one minute and disarming us with their charm and affection the next? None of us can be the perfect parent. Eventually we have to settle for being 'good enough' and also accept that God doesn't expect any more from us either.
    When it all becomes too much, we can crawl into Abba's embrace and allow ourselves to be the child again, receiving His unconditional love and being equipped to try to love as He does. Remember that this stage will pass and, one day, you will look back in wonder at how far you and the family have come together in learning to live with and love one another.
    Meanwhile, let our heavenly Father love on you and rest in Him until you are at peace again. Then take a deep breath and go on with being "the bestest Mummy in the world" to your beautiful girls.

  3. Oh Helen, I love your honesty in this. It's so hard being a parent. You're doing a great job so don't grow weary. Katy will get there too. Our sons tantrums went off the richter scale and on 2 occasions almost caused me to crash the car! Yes undid his seatbelt and covered my eyes whilst I was on a main road doing 50mph! I've cried many tears in despair. Consitent, firm, loving and prayer, worship music played in his room all helped. Prayin 4 ya;) Rowena

  4. Thanks for your openess. Big hug for you.

  5. Thank you, Helen, for your openness and honesty in sharing your and your family's pain. It has moved us deeply. You have shared so many truths with us that you have so painfully (and reluctantly?) discovered. Thank you so much.

    I fear that you have opened yourself up to abuse by the 'spare the rod and spoil the child' brigade, where one proverb is elevated to central tenet of faith, even above the call to love. But you ask the question, "How can that possibly help? Katy, you're not allowed to hit, but Mummy is...?" There's no answer to that, but it's still easier to quote the proverb and take the quick fix to short-term peace.

    Thank you for bravely searching for (and sharing) a longer, more painful, but more beautiful journey soaked in love. As we pray for you, we pray for ourselves that we could be half as brave and half as faithful in the far less demanding situations we encounter each day.
    Bless you,

  6. Helen - I love your posts. Could easily spend all day browsing through and reading your blog. Prayed blessings on Katy and Elizabeth just now - may they come to know Jesus at a young age and become true women of God. And for wisdom and grace for their mum too xx


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