July 30, 2013

Toddler Time

Before my husband & I got engaged, he set us each an assignment: go find someone who is married or has been married, and ask them for one thing they didn't expect from marriage. When I spoke with a friend who had been married and was divorced, she said the joy of tasks like laundry and meals became a chore. She said she was surprised by how quickly the fun became frustrating.

More than a decade later, and I'm still wrestling with that very thing.

Others may be luckier than I in passing through the toddler years; my toddler self never went away. When I see there's laundry to be done, another meal to make, another round of house cleaning to do, I know what's coming. In my head, grown-up meets toddler--and the toddler is frighteningly well-armed with arguments.

I've tried so many methods to MAKE myself do what ought to be done. Force (though no, I haven't tried to spank myself), threats, consequences, pleading, cajoling, and promises of reward don't work or (despite working) leave deeper scars. Please believe me when I say that making yourself feel guilty or ashamed enough to do something causes more damage than you want in the years ahead.

I tried to tell myself that clean laundry was needed or that my children needed to eat--then sneakily dragged my heels, just to see if I meant what I said. When we survived one more day in twice-worn outfits or made do with a thrown-together lunch of crackers, cold cuts, and carrots, my inner toddler took notes. I don't believe that voice in my head that says these "have" to be done a certain way. I have chapter and verse of the proof that they don't.

This morning I talked with God after a few weeks of silence. I've wrestled with teaching my small daughter that manipulating someone to get what you want isn't relationship. I realized this morning that all my interactions with my inner toddler are that: manipulation. What I need is not a fail-safe way to MAKE myself do what is needed in the moment. I need to listen to figure out what motivates my heart to relate to those I love in loving ways.

No, I don't know what this means when it comes time to make supper and empty that dishwasher behind me. I do know the more I think about doing it, the more I see myself as something to control. I know that emptying each dish from the racks will be done better if I'm not scolding myself all the while ("Why did you let these sit here so long? See how little time that took? Why were you whining about it for so long?"). Above all, I know it means I need to stop treating my inner rebel as a toddler, if only because that approach keeps me acting like one.

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