Two and a half. It’s a fun age. I only mean that slightly sarcastically. Most of the time Grace is charming, funny, and lovable. Sometimes though, she’s not. She is going through a hitting stage and man, that girl is strong. Strong and persistant. Moving out of reach doesn’t work. She’ll come after us, arms out like weapons. We don’t do time-out and we don’t believe in spanking, so it’s a bit of trial and error figuring out what to do when she hits.
I’m learning a lot about myself as I try to handle the hitting fits. I react first and think later. I can see why parents spank and punish. That kind of reaction definately comes naturally to me. Thankfully, I feel strongly enough against spanking not to do it. What’s harder is not using implied punishment. My first response when she won’t stop hitting me has been to say, “I love you but don’t like when you hit me. I am going to step out of the room and come back when you can stop.” I’ve even gone so far as to tell her, “I don’t like to be around you when you hurt me.” Each time, she starts crying and saying, “Mommy I need you. Stay mommy,” but goes back to hitting a few seconds later. One day, when I responded with my threat to leave the room, I saw the hurt in her eyes. I heard it hidden behind anger as she yelled, “Go away Mommy!” I realized that I wasn’t loving unconditionally. I was telling her I only wanted to be around her if she behaved, if it didn’t hurt.
Sometimes though, love hurts. Love hurt a lot for Christ on the cross. Love hurt a lot for God as He watched His Son die for our sins. Love hurts each and every time Gods holds on to us and refuses to let go, even when we hit and kick, trying to get away from Him. Love didn’t feel too good for Hosea, going after his wife time and again, taking her back after she’d been with other men. Love hurts for missionaries as they suffer to share the love of Christ, often with hostile people. Sometimes, love hurts.
Recently, I’ve taken a new approach to Grace’s hitting. I gently catch her hands when she hits. I tell her to give me five instead. Sometimes it works. If not, I keep catching her hands and letting them go. I tell her I love her but she can’t hit me. If she yells at me to go away, I tell her I love her and step a few feet away, telling her I will be right there waiting when she is ready. As she rants, I pray and stay calm. Eventually, her anger subsides and she comes to me and hugs me. She says, “I’m sorry mommy. I love you,” and we cuddle.
By staying present and staying calm, I’m learning. I’m learning that she hits when she is feeling out of control. When things aren’t calm around the house, she gets wound up. If I’m stressed or impatient, she hits. If she’s feeling lonely, she hits. I’m learning to see it coming and step in before that point with a little laughter or a cuddle. I’m learning that I need God, minute by minute, to parent gently and to love even when it hurts. I hope Grace is learning too, learning that I will love her no matter what she says or does, just like her Father in Heaven.