My matchbox cars were my favorite toys when I was a kid. My dad donated a small handful of the cars from his childhood down to me and it became the foundation of my own massive collection. Between my brother and me, we had several hundred Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars – from ambulances to police cars, race cars, and helicopters – we had them all.
Recently, my parents pulled our carrying cases of matchbox cars down from the attic and introduced them to Caleb. His eyes lit up as he carefully took each car out of its slot, examined it carefully, and set it aside. He barely actually plays with them. For the most part, he just admires them. They sent him home with one of the cases last week and as Caleb pulled each one out, vivid memories of them came rushing back to me. I still remember the feeling I got when my parents or grandparents bought them for us. But the thing that truly amazes me is that Caleb’s favorite cars – the ones he cherishes and holds close to his chest – are the same ones I loved playing with the most.
Watching Caleb take joy in my old toys is one of the coolest experiences I’ve had as a dad. To see him enjoy something that was once mine and drive them across my chest while I lay on the floor with him is just amazing. But these moments together have been some rare peaceful times in the midst of absolute chaos.
Caleb is now 20 months old and much closer to his 2nd birthday than his first. He is growing, learning, and experiencing so much right now. He never wants to just sit. He is full-force energy every waking moment. But this intellectual and physical growth is the cocktail for the perfect storm, affectionally coined “The Terrible Twos.”
He is often frustrated when he wants something but doesn’t know how to tell us. He has been throwing fits in restaurants, waking up angry at 3AM because he wants to play with his toys, whining when we don’t give him what he wants, and even told his first lie the other day. The days of simply cuddling together on the couch before bed are over. It’s full contact parenting now. This is the part of being a dad I’ve never looked forward to (along with changing diapers at ungodly hours of the night).
The Stewardship of Parenting
Just like with any relationship, the temptation in these times is to disengage from the situation either by giving into Caleb’s fits or by letting him get away with disobedience. I often see this happening in restaurants. Parents will put an iPad in front of their kids loaded with TV shows to keep them pacified and distracted so they can enjoy adult conversations. Holly and I once watched a Mom sit on her cellphone through an entire dinner with her son, only looking up to acknowledge him once in the 30 minutes we were there.
While pacifying your kids may be the easiest way to making peace, it’s the coward’s way out. Recently, I’ve been so convicted by the reality that Caleb is not mine. He is first and foremost a child of the King, just as I am. In Deuteronomy 6, God calls on the parents in Israel to be the chief pastoral figures in their children’s lives, charging them to remind their children of who God is on a daily basis. He didn’t call on the priests or religious officials. He called on the parents.
As much as I love Caleb, he has a Heavenly Father who loves him exponentially more than I ever could. He is a gift from God and we are called to be faithful stewards of his life. This means pointing to his true Creator and Father daily.
The Big Question
I was recently cuddling with Caleb on the couch shortly before bedtime. As we were laying there watching some TV together and enjoying a rare, quiet moment, I felt a God-like tug on my heart. It was as if he was saying, “Tell my little boy how much I love him.” In the same way that I depend on Holly giving Caleb an extra kiss goodnight for me on the evenings in which I’m traveling, we must be willing and prepared to display God’s love to our children.
Whether the situation is sweet or disciplinary, I’m finding myself asking one important question – “How do I appropriately display God’s love for Caleb in this moment?”
If I have to discipline him, how do I demonstrate consequences for his transgressions while unconditional love and acceptance of him as Christ would? If he is hurting, how can I best show comfort while knowing I can’t fix his pain? Sometimes the answer is obvious but other times it’s difficult. In the end, I ask this question with the understanding that when he hears the term “God the Father,” he will immediately filter his image of God through his experiences with me. It is an awesome responsibility that is often difficult to comprehend.
Sometimes being a faithful steward of my son means disciplining him. There are times it means being firm. Other times, it just means laying on the floor while he drives my old Hot Wheels cars on my chest. Whether the situation is fun, sweet, or difficult, my responsibility is clear. Be a faithful steward of one of God’s most precious gifts in my life by displaying Christ’s selfless love daily.
(And I thought diapers were a challenge.)