Because I Said So
My four year old daughter gathered up all her nerve and determination and told me plainly that she was not ready or willing to take a bath.
"I don't want to! I won't!"
She would, I explained. Because she needed one... and because I said so.
It always seems so unfair to use that card. The "because I said so" one. We hated to hear it as kids and don't we hate to say it as parents? It seems so corrupt and dictator-like, rolling off my tongue like an exasperated excuse when I don't have the wisdom (or energy) to justify myself into her understanding.
She was melting down. Literally going limp in my hands as she refused to cooperate with getting undressed. Just me and her on the bathroom rug, in a dimly lit bathroom with the water running and her screaming and me struggling not to raise my voice or my hand in anger. Struggling also against the temptation to just give up and give in - "fine, whatever, we'll do a bath tomorrow," I could say - and the fight would be over.
But, no. I couldn't say that. Because here was my little girl, totally consumed with her own fiery emotions and pushing back against my authority and insisting on her own way.
The bath - it's a small thing. But this moment, it's a big one.
I imagine this same moment being reborn in later years, harder years. When she doesn't want to have a curfew or doesn't want to go to school or doesn't want to stay home with her family on a Friday night. How many future moments are waiting for us where she will be denied what she wants in order to receive what she needs?
I rinsed the shampoo out of her hair, gently lifting up her chin even as she continued to holler so I could pour the warm water down her head and back. I felt frustrated and exhausted, so I told her that Mommy knows best and I told her that she'd make herself sick with crying and then I told her that I wasn't going to tell her anything else.
I stayed silent and she screamed and cried until I finally lifted her out of the tub, wrapped her in a towel and pulled her close to me. We were both worn out.
I carried her into bed and held her close, quiet for a while as she breathed little hiccup-cries. Her body rose and fell with my deep, long breathing and I waited until hers fell in sync.
How do I teach her trust me? To obey not just because she loves me, but because she knows I love her?
I loved her like the Father loves us: first. And oh-so-completely.
The fight had left us both on emotional empty but I wanted to fill her up. "I love you," I said, and paused..."do you know that?" She nodded. Of course she knows it, but does she know it? Like, really know it?
I let it all overflow into her: I love you because you're my daughter, you're my girl. I love you because God gave you to me. He wants me to care for you. He wants really good things for you and I want really good things for you. I need you to obey so that I can do my job well and teach you and help you grow. I need you to trust me so that I can take care of you.
She sniffed occasionally, saying nothing as I whispered all my spilled-out truth. I wound her wet curls around my finger and pressed my forehead against hers. I only hoped she could feel it.
I needed to make dinner and she seemed like she was almost asleep, so I tucked her in to rest and left the room.
Will it always be this way? I wondered. Since the garden we have battled with one great Lie... does God really know what he's doing? Does he really want whats best for me? And maybe it's the same with parenting, always battling out this obedience until it's finally born out of love and trust instead of fear.
I left my girl, exhausted from her own defiance, and began to stir a pot of spaghetti sauce. This is hard. This is not going to get easier. God, help me.
"Brit," my husband interrupted my thoughts and I glanced over my shoulder.
And there was my girl, who had jumped out of bed and was running towards me. Past toys and distractions and other arms and with a look in her eye that was just for me.
Thank you, Lord.
I knelt and waited for her to cross the living room then lifted her up into my arms. She hugged me tight and then whispered sweetly, "I love you, too."