|Yes, that's one way to eat applesauce.|
Life with a toddler is quite a unique experience. Perhaps at no other age are children so dramatic, so temperamental, so opinionated, so cute, and so difficult as when they are toddlers. Some people will say that the main reason for toddler tantrums is simply that they have trouble communicating what it is they want and hence become frustrated, acting out in whatever way will get them attention.
No doubt there is some truth to that, but it also seems that much of toddler frustration comes from the realization that they cannot have everything they want at the time they want it or in the way they want it. Toddlers can also appear completely irrational, in part because they do not understand (or perhaps do not LIKE) the way the world works. My toddler has in the past gotten very frustrated at my stopping at red lights, especially if I seem to be waiting too long. "GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!" he will yell from directly behind my driver's seat. This past summer, my toddler threw a monster tantrum every single morning for two weeks in a row because I refused to give him a popsicle for breakfast. Rules like stopping at a red light or no popsicles for breakfast are simply not compelling to a toddler.
Then we may also observe that toddlers often have a more profound degree of indecision than the rest of us. A simple question, such as "Do you want red socks or blue?" can wreak havoc. Not to mention that toddlers sometimes will ask for something, and when they are given it, they forget about it and walk away. There are other times when they seem upset that they received what they asked for, and they will throw it or themselves on the ground.
Toddlers can be extremely covetous, employing that word "MINE!" frequently, even for things, such as the garlic mincer or potato peeler, which clearly are NOT theirs. And another frequent word of toddlers, is, of course, "NO!" which in their mind seems to apply in many situations, even when it is not a valid answer to a particular question.
It can be quite tough living with someone who gets upset over small matters, dislikes particular rules, throws tantrums about minor concerns, is indecisive on basic decisions, shows little gratitude, and is possessive about things that aren't even his. It is a great parenting mortification. Dealing with a toddler is an opportunity for death to self in order to live for God. There are many aspects of toddler behavior we'd like to avoid, but since we can't, we should try to make the best of the seeming irrationalities, tantrums, etc. We can offer these situations, and our attempts at patience with them, as an opportunity for prayer and growing closer to God.
Life with a toddler is also a wonderful situation for reflecting on our own childhood before God. Do we ever get frustrated with God's rules? Do we ever try to avoid good formation and growing in virtue so we can do things we find more pleasurable or fun? Do we ever have bad days where we get upset for very little (or even no) reason at all? Do we ever ask God for something in prayer and then forget about it or show no gratitude when we receive it? Do we ever get possessive about material possessions, acting as though they will last for all eternity? Do we ever want other people's things and get angry when we can't have them? Do we ever tell God "NO!" when we feel He is asking us to do something we don't want to do or something that we think is too difficult?
Yes. The fact is that we - even as adults - often act like toddlers. That we are bigger and older might make it seem to us that our adult version of the toddler behavior is more acceptable than their toddler behavior. And yet, God probably often looks upon us in loving patience (and even amusement) the same way that we look at our toddlers. We get upset about little things. We don't always want to follow God's rules, and we don't admit our failings. We sometimes yell or take out our anger on others, including people who do not deserve it. We hate to wait and show our impatience in dramatic ways. We become indecisive about decisions when we should be trusting in God. We do not thank God enough for our blessings. We often want too much when it comes to material possessions. We sometimes try to bend God's will to our own, while also resisting doing God's will, even when it is clear to us.
"Amen, I say to you, unless you become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." These words of Jesus from Matthew 18:2-4 tell us that we should be like children. But surely the behavior described above is not what Jesus had in mind. Toddlers can be difficult, it's true. And yet they also have a tremendous amount of trust and willingness to be loved. As much as they want to do things by themselves, they realize they need help and they ask for it. They seek our help and like constant awareness of our presence. They know that we will often grant their requests. They seek our affection. They seem to recognize their dependence.
Our toddlers should be a reminder to us of our own dependence upon God. We need to seek to be childlike as they are, ready to ask for help and trust that we will get the response that is best for us in God's eyes, rather than just our own. As adults, we should leave behind the childish toddler tantrums we see exhibited by our kids, but at the same time, we should humble ourselves, becoming childlike by recognizing our dependence on God and growing each day in love for him.
So, the next time the toddler throws a tantrum, embrace that as a double mortification: a challenge requiring loving patience and a reminder of our own imperfections and need for childlike humility. The childish response is to become annoyed and angry at the irrational demonstrative child. The childlike response is to use this moment to depend on God's help, asking Him to give us the grace we need to be good parents, as He is to us when we throw tantrums.