God’s Grace in Toddler Tantrums

“No! I don’t want mom to go! I don’t like mom!”

On this particular morning, the words being screamed from my stubborn toddler cut to the heart.

Typically, three-year-old tantrums elicit feelings of frustration and anger. But today, I just stared out the car window as the whole family drove to run errands - all while my daughter continued to cry that she did not want me there and did not like me.

My husband laid a gentle hand on my knee and reminded me that she did not really know what she was saying.

“Yes, but she needs to know that her words can hurt.”

She sniffled snotty tears and whimpered “but I just don’t like you”.

So, I calmly turned around, looked her in the eye and told my illogical toddler that her words hurt mom’s feelings. I told her I felt sad because I love my family and spending time with them all – including her. She sniffled snotty tears and whimpered “but I just don’t like you”.

Looking back on this family scene – one that will be too familiar when my toddler turns into a teenager – I cannot help but think I have thrown the same tantrum toward my Heavenly Father time and time again. How many times have I said with my course of action, “No! I don’t want You! I don’t like You!” How many times have I grieved the Father’s heart, rejecting His presence? We have been enacting this scene since time immemorial …

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:8-9, ESV

Our original parents planted the seed of stubborn rebellion that bursts out of my toddler and cuts my heart just as it cuts our Lord’s heart. And yet, He calmly whispers that He loves me and just wants to be with me. He whispers it to my toddler’s heart too. And yours.

I am convinced that the sole purpose for toddler tantrums is God’s tangible way of showing us just how ridiculous, illogical and stubborn I am. I cannot count how many times I have been humbled by God working through my children to reveal my own sinful, selfish heart. His grace to me through tantrums feels unwanted in the midst of them – yet, I know He is lovingly pruning my rebellious heart in the middle of Target with a toddler on the floor or in my kitchen with food flung everywhere.

So, how can I put these truths into practice when I’m carrying out my daily mothering tasks? I pray that God would work through me His own attributes …

“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15, ESV

The Old Testament describes God as being “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” eight times (Bible Gateway, ESV). I ask God that this phrase would describe myself and my parenting. I am not there in the least! It is so much easier and satisfying (in the moment) to yell out my frustration. But oh, how it makes everything much worse (and therefore difficult) and full of regret when the moment passes. I pray God will continue to shape my heart into the mold He set before us in the person of Christ – a humble, obedient servant slow to anger and abounding in love.

Just as my children’s’ behavior are tangible examples of my sinful heart, God can use my parenting to show my children tangible examples of His love. Will I accept His good graces like toddler tantrums to humble me, to prune my selfishness and transform me into a mom whose primary response is slowness to anger and steadfast love? I pray that I will and that He will provide the strength to continue when the days are long and the tantrums terrible.