Parents. Pick Your Battle.

It was 2004 or thereabout. I was getting ready for work and the morning started off like normal. A quick breakfast. The curly-headed, bright blue-eyed toddler sat across the table in her height chair. She was in a bit of a mood. I don't remember what came next except that I asked her to do something to which she looked at me, promptly ignored me, put her binky in her mouth, grabbed her blankie and walked away.

I had to make sure she heard me. I asked her again. She just stared at me. I asked her again only this time I added, "Say 'yes daddy'." She simply nodded no and began walking her own way to go start her day just the way that she was determined to do before this dude ruined everything for her. She had things to do and she was not to be disturbed.

I also had things to do. I had to get to work. I had my day planned out. My wife had things to do too. I had a critical choice to make in that moment. My daughter needed me. She needed me to win this battle. Parenting is full of critical moments that are full of redemptive opportunity. Parenting is a series of these moments that build or deteriorate one upon the other. As a parent, you are always at a crossroads and your kids always need your wisdom and help.

Would I put this disobedience off until another moment? Would I leave the mess to her mommy? Or would I pick the battle and win? At the moment I was pretty frustrated and maybe a bit angry. As she walked away, I looked at my wife in the kitchen and could tell that this was going to be my battle - after all, I picked the fight. Little did I know that what was about to transpire at 8:30am in the morning would continue through until about 3pm. This was going to be a battle for the ages - and it would set the tone for the rest of our lives.

My daughter, my oldest daughter, with her bright blue eyes and curly hair wasn't having it. I went and picked her up and sat her down on my lap. She was already struggling a bit. I pulled her binkie, her precious binkie, out of her mouth and I said once again, "Emma, say 'yes daddy'." She immediately began to arch her back trying to break free from my grasp. "No Emma. Just say 'yes daddy.'" Struggle. "Emma, I don't have time for this. You don't want to go here. Just say it." Louder crying. More struggling to break free. A tighter bear hug. Full out, five-alarm, nuclear temper tantrum.

I pulled her now-starting-to-sweat face as close as I could to my face and I said into her ear, "This is not a battle that you can win. I love you. And I am going to win. For your sake, I am going to win."

That was just the beginning of the battle. I don't remember a lot of what happened between 8:30am and 4pm. But I do remember it was a series of me asking her to say "Yes daddy", discipline, more pleading, more attempts at calming, more bear hugs, more assurance that I was doing this because I loved her, putting her in timeout, pinches on the leg, taking her blankie and binkie and many, many points where I left the room to calm down. It was a war.

My wife continued to encourage me and root me on. She knew, as well as I did, maybe even more-so, that this was a battle that had to be won. I don't even remember why I wanted Emma to say "yes daddy". I just knew, that she needed to say it. She needed to obey me - for her sake. She needed to know that there were rules, a father who loved her, and that discipline waited for her if she decided to hurt others. I knew I was in a battle for her heart and mind.

There was a point when I had placed her in her crib as she was screaming and yelling at me - her face now red, eyes bloodshot, and curls very tight with sweat, when I could have sworn her head was going to turn 360 degrees and she was going to spit venom on me. It was at this point that everything changed.

I was waiting outside her bedroom door to go in for another round.  I was wondering if I was being too hard. I was wondering if she even knew how to speak at this point. I was trying to make excuses to stop the war and call for peace. I was wondering if this was all a big mistake - if my little toddler, my sweet Emma, was too confused.  Maybe, I thought, this wasn't rebellion? Maybe she was just being a toddler. I decided to strap on my riot gear and open the door. It was at that precise moment when I asked one more time, "Emma, say 'yes daddy', please!"

She stood up in her crib. Her face turned beat red as she held her breath. She began to shake with anger, she lifted up her chubby little hand and pointed at me and said, "NO!" We just stood there staring at each other.

I knew, in that moment, that she knew exactly what was happening. In the following moments everything changed. I knew she knew and she knew that I knew. And I was going to win, because I loved her.

I ran over to her crib, I picked her up out of the crib. I put her in the tightest bear hug she had ever been in and I whispered into her ear, "I am your daddy, and I am going to win, because I love you." She tried to move and I just kept saying, "Say 'yes daddy' because your daddy loves you." More screaming. More wrestling and then finally...finally...

"Yes daddy." Her body relaxed and she began to hug me and she said it again, "Yes daddy."

I would like to say that this was the last time that there was a battle of the wills. But it was not. There were and have been and will be many. But the tone was set when each of our children were very young.

I have seen the exact opposite of this happen as parents give in. A child clamors for more. We tell them 'no' and they go for it anyway and we are just too tired to love them well and enforce the rules. They win. They win small battles and soon we start trying to weather the storm of bad behavior and selfishness. Soon the storm turns into a hurricane.

Your children need you to pick battles that you are committed to winning. Not for the sake of being right but because they desperately need you to win. They need the stability that comes from a mommy or daddy who can set godly boundaries, teach them the precepts of the Lord, and discipline them when they have ignored those precepts.

Each of our children have been different. What works with one does not work with another. But we have learned that God's Law is grace. It teaches us and our children what God's will is for our lives. And when we keep to His will as found in His Law, we experience new mercy every day in a sinful and broken world.

Years later, when Emma was a tween, she was invited to a sleep-over party at a home that we didn't know or trust. While we were happy that she was making friends, we also did not want to put her into a situation  that could be harmful. We sat her down and told her our decision. We would let her go until 12am and then pick her up. We acknowledged it would be disappointing but she would have to trust us. She looked at me and my wife and with a little trembling in her voice and sadness on her face she said, "You don't have to explain it to me daddy. I love you and trust you."

We didn't just arrive at that moment. It took 12 years of consistently picking the battles we were committed to winning. For us, the battles worth winning were directly related to God's Word. Open handed issues were left up for discussion. This could be another post, but I would encourage you to take inventory on the battles you think are worth the commitment to win. 

I want to encourage you to commit to winning for the sake of your children. If you are not willing to see a battle through until the very end, then wait for another opportunity when you will see it through. 

No Comments