Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pre Schooled in Prayer

Max has been a difficult child. 
     People who know him well might guess that there were some obvious reasons for that. Those with some child development classes under their belt would say it was because he was four years old. All reasons considered, it was about as much as I could take.
Last summer, I went from working full time to being a full time grandparent to Max, his 3 year old sister and seven year old brother. This would have been a challenge regardless of Max’s temperament. Going from being a “Fun” grandparent to one actively involved in their upbringing is a tough one for a grandparent to make.
My daughter’s separation from their father was rough on all three of my grandchildren, but Max soon became sullen and angry much of the time, stubborn all of the time. 
To be honest, it was rough on my wife and me as well. Just a few months from a retirement we had expected to be relatively carefree, we were suddenly plunged back into the world of parenting. In addition to the logistics of getting kids dressed and fed each morning, getting the oldest one to school on time, planning and serving dinners that we could eat as a family when my daughter got home from work, there was discipline. 
Discipline is easy when you are babysitting but critical when you’re with children for 40 or 50 hours a week. With Max it seemed impossible.
For months, everything was a battle. Getting him to dress was a battle, getting him in the car on the days he had pre-school was a battle, getting him to stop hitting anybody and everybody was a battle. The mayhem he was able to create seemed to keep us from getting anything accomplished.
What was more unsettling than the anger I saw in Max, was the anger I saw in myself. By the fall, I was constantly losing my patience. Neither of us was having a lot of fun. 
I was surprised at myself. I have spent half my life raising my own children and my whole career working with high school students, all with very little frustration or anger. Suddenly, a four year old seemed to have the better of me.
 Baffled, I turned to the only resource I could think of. I turned to prayer.
I hear other Catholics talking about having a prayer life. I’m not even sure what people mean by that, I just knew that I didn’t have one. Sure, I say the Rosary and the occasional Novena, but I’ve never been sure how to go about the deep, direct sort of prayer called for when you are troubled.
I do know enough about prayer to avoid asking God to affect a specific outcome. God doesn’t need my advice about how to solve a problem. Besides, God has a sense of humor, giving you exactly what you asked for in ways you least expected. 
I prayed for myself. I prayed for wisdom, understanding and patience. (If you’re asking, ask for something big!) I prayed for Max. I prayed for his wellbeing (Although it was tempting to pray for a list of behaviors I would like to see changed).
About a week or two into the prayer cycle, things started to change. Max suddenly became more cooperative and more polite. He started addressing me as Grandpa rather than “Chicken head” or “Monkey brain”. Pleases and thank you’s are now spontaneous. He is not yet an angel but he is at least window shopping for wings.
For my part, I have learned to be more relaxed. I am starting to get the hang of actually being with small children, rather than thinking about what else I need to be doing. I have gotten much better at being firm and clear without being emotional. I’m starting to get the hang of the “parent”  part of grandparenting.
People who know Max might guess that there were some obvious reasons for his turnaround. Those with some child development classes under their belt would say it was because he is now five. 
I know prayer was a factor as well. 
Over the past few weeks, Max and I have both come to a greater appreciation of our lives and of each other. I can think of no better answer to my prayers.
Does that mean I can cut back on prayer? Oh no. Lily turns four any day now.

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