I am now raising my fourth three year-old and I’ve come to an important conclusion: Three year-olds are at the height of their cuteness and their annoyingness. I really don’t mind the toddler stage all that much. The kids are ridiculously adorable and they’re just starting to learn some actual life skills. They say hilarious stuff and will randomly hug your leg and declare, “I so glad I your family, Mom.” (Actual quote from my current three year-old, Joel) My eight year-old doesn’t do that anymore, so I’ll take it while I can get it.
But FOR THE LOVE these kids are annoying. They cry about everything. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. The oatmeal is too hot. Now it’s too cold. These are not the Superman socks they wanted when they told you they wanted to wear Superman socks. You found their favorite show, but this is not the episode they like. You told them to eat their chicken nugget but they don’t like how this one is shaped. A sibling looked at them when they didn’t want to be looked at. These are all reasons for a major breakdown.
And it’s not just the crying that’s annoying. They will also argue about anything. If you are not careful you will find yourself in a full-fledged debate with a child about topics that don’t even make sense. Is there a pool in the library? Are fruit snacks made out of melted crayons? Did Grandma ride a horse to school? WHY ARE WE ARGUING ABOUT THIS STUFF? All their adorable verbal skills get used for evil instead of good and it is draining to deal with that from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. And that assumes they slept through the night, which is not a given around here. And WHY do they stop napping around this age? I still enforce a quiet time, but “quiet” is a very subjective word to a three year-old.
Parenting a toddler is exhausting.
But here’s what I’ve been reminding myself: just because a behavior is annoying doesn’t mean that it’s morally wrong. I think it’s easy as a parent to deal with obnoxious behavior as though it is sinful behavior because it makes us so frustrated. Which has made me wonder. . . Was Jesus a typical annoying three year-old? If we believe he truly was human, then I kind of think he was.
Mothers know that line in “Silent Night” about the little Lord Jesus not crying is total malarkey. And I think the same is true about his toddler years. Did the sinless Jesus cry about stupid stuff? Probably. Did he keep falling down when Mary was in a hurry to get somewhere and she ended up half dragging him through the parking lot. . . I mean, the market? Maybe. Did he poop his pants when she thought he was mostly over that stage? Is it heretical if I think he did?
I imagine Mary got irritated with her son, even though he was sinless. I bet at times it was because there was a training or teaching issue she needed to handle and she was tired (I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I don’t think sinless means he was born potty-trained). And I bet at times it was because Mary had just kind of had it with this whole parenting thing because moms are people too and have our own struggles. As parents, we can respond to the typical non sinful behavior with sin of our own– anger, hurtful words, rolling our eyes– and we can do it in ways that puts the blame on our child. How often have I said, “You are making me so angry!” as though my frustration at a child accidentally dropping their peas is justified and only the fault of the toddler.
It’s been a good perspective adjustment for me when I’m tempted to be angry at my child to ask myself the classic WWTJD. You know– What Would Toddler Jesus Do? If my child is sinning, I need to deal with the sin. I need to be firm, consistent and direct. If my child isn’t sinning, but is just annoying, I need to deal with that too, but I need to realize that some of the problem may be my own grumpiness or short temper or buttons that are too easily pushed.
I’m not saying it’s okay for kids to be annoying. We are trying to raise civilized human beings who can function well in adult society and letting them be rude or controlled by their emotions or unaware of how their actions are impacting others isn’t helpful to that process. I have just noticed that sometimes it’s easier to wink at sin (“Isn’t it adorable when she sneaks her brother’s food when he isn’t looking.”) and overreact about the things that annoy us (“WHY ARE YOU SO LOUD?!”) instead of being appropriately upset about sin and able to let some of the annoying stuff go.
So when I’m about to LOSE MY MIND at the sound of a Hot Wheels car being dropped on the hardwood floor for the one hundredth time, it’s okay for me to calmly say, “Mommy needs some quiet. Please take that car over on the carpet or else put it away.” But I need to remember that this is just the annoying behavior of a three year-old. He’s not trying to make me crazy, ruin my day, or even be bad. I don’t need to respond to him as though he is. I’m guessing that’s a lesson Mary had to learn, too. Maybe.