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The Longest Trip

If you’ve been following my blog at all, you may know that I have been reluctant to travel for work. My desire to stay home with my toddler comes from this core belief I developed in childhood that good mommies stay home with their kids. You may also know that God has been encouraging me to travel anyways. It’s been a hard sell but I’ve been obeying with greater faith. That is, until last week.

Last week, I got home from the longest trip I had ever taken apart from my kid: 17 days apart. Seventeen days of blowing kisses to each other over video chat, 17 days of singing songs to one another, 17 days of counting down until mommy would be home again. Although I was okay with the longer separation, my kid was not. By day 10, she was d-u-n, done. That’s when the “terrible twos” started coming out.

Terrible Twos or Terribly Scared

There are only a few times in my kid’s life when the inconsolable protests that mark the “terrible twos” came to the forefront. The first time was around ten months of age when my kid wanted to tell us exactly what she wanted but realized she had no words. She really wanted to communicate, so she began throwing tantrums. After a short prayer for discernment, we began teaching her baby sign language—something that had been on my heart to start, but hadn’t been a focus before. Within a week or two, as she learned how to sign “more” and “food” and “milk” and “all done”, the “terrible twos” disappeared.

At 18 months, they came back. A friend prayed with us and said that our daughter was feeling the changing relational dynamics between her mom and dad (because of the marital healing we were pursuing) in our house. It was a big change, and she didn’t know how to handle it. We responded by giving our kid more positive attention, by helping her release her pent up emotions, and by implementing natural consequences for any manipulative behavior she was trying out. I wasn’t a big proponent of this last part because, in general, I prefer the gentle parenting approach, but God was pretty clear in what would work and what wouldn’t with my kid. As a result, the “terrible twos” disappeared again, practically overnight.

The third time they re-emerged, she was two-and-a-half, and we had just moved away from everything and everyone she ever knew in Maryland. We moved out to Colorado , in a camper, no less. This time, the “terrible twos” came back with a vengeance, and we didn’t blame her at all. Much of her sense of security—all that she had banked on to be the same for every day of her little life—was stripped from her in a moment. No matter how much we prepared her or how much we practiced talking about her feelings, she melted down anyway. She lost her previously-unshakeable sleep schedule. She refused to eat. She willfully defied every instruction we gave her for months. This time, I was afraid our adorable, reasonable kid was gone forever, but God said to give her time and keep trying. We practiced various techniques to make her sleep time feel safe again. We added lots of pillows to turn her camper cot into a cuddly nest—thanks to a prophetic word from a friend. We deliberately increased the intentional positive attention we gave her, instead of only giving her focused negative attention—like disciplining her for rebelling. We kept the natural consequences, but we reduced our emotional anger when we implemented them. Instead, we sought to feel compassion for her plight. It took three months, but it finally worked.

Fast forward to last week. My husband said that about ten days into our longest time apart from one another, my toddler flipped a switch. She went from being our sweet little girl to being that willfully defiant two-year-old who refused to be happy and protested every instruction. By the time I got home one week later, she had had it! Nothing I tried to reconcile our relationship worked. The only word she seemed to know was, “NO!” This time—like every other time before—I didn’t know what to do, so I prayed for help.

A Mother’s Prayer

Me: God, what’s wrong with my kid? Why is she being so obstinate?

God: She formed a core belief while you were gone, that she could no longer rely on her mother being around.

Me: Oh, like she learned that she could no longer rely on living in the same neighborhood in which she had her first and second birthdays and made her very first friends?

God: Exactly.

Me: That feels scary, huh?

God: It feels very shaky, so she’s showing you that she’s upset with the world.

Me: By saying “no” to everything.

God: Exactly.

Me: How do I fix it? I’ve been asking her if she felt sad or mad when mommy was on a trip but those feeling-word-conversations go nowhere. I’ve also been trying to focus on how “mommy always comes home after a trip” but she doesn’t seem to care about that, either. What else can I do?

God: Tickle her.

Me: Tickle her?

God: Yes, tickle her. Many times a day. She is also saying no to your instructions as a way to invite you into her world and redirect you to go after her. She wants you to seek her, catch her, and make her laugh. Tickle her, and all will get better.

Obey Right Away

So I tickled her, 3-5 times per day, for four days, and what happened? Within 12 hours, my husband said he immediately saw an improvement in her behavior. Within 24 hours, I saw the same. By the end of day 1, after another round of tickling, and a subsequent round of prayer, she was trying to use her words to tell me about when mommy goes on trips, how she always comes back. We tickled again, and then kissed good night after I promised to tickle her in the morning. She immediately went to sleep. By day 4, she was the child I knew and fully enjoyed.

On day 5, I had to leave for another trip. When I told her that I’d be gone for four days, she replied, “Yes, you will be on a trip for four days and when you come back, you will tickle me.” Yes! Yes, I will.

God is the greatest parent. The end.

2 responses to “The Longest Trip”

  1. Bianca Avatar

    Oh my!!! I can’t love this one enough 🙂

    1. Tenay Benes Avatar

      So glad to hear it!

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