I’m not sure where the expression “terrible twos” came from, but it’s certainly accurate. My daughter can be two completely different people, depending on her mood. Most of the time she is great–fun to be around and very helpful–but especially when she is sick or tired she can turn on this horrible and persistent whine. Like the widow in Jesus’ parable of the unjust judge, she insists on what she wants again and again and again and again and again and again… and again. Her voice can somehow hit this awful pitch–like fingernails on a chalk board–that makes your whole head vibrate in pain:
Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!
What do you want?
I want to watch a video!
No, you don’t need to watch a video right now.
Daddy! I wanna watch a video! Daddy! I wanna watch a video! Daddy!
It’s six in the morning. You need to sleep!
I wanna watch a video! I wanna watch a video! I wanna watch a video! I wanna watch a video! I wanna watch a video!
I said no!
Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!
I don’t listen to whiners.
Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!
I wanna watch a video!
I said No. Now stop asking!
Saying no means we get no peace. Saying yes means teaching her that such whining is a valid means of getting what she wants. Trying to punish her–say, by putting her in time-out– is useless, as that still requires us to get up, and she’ll continue whining anyway. Reasoning with her? You’d have to have the patience of Job. Reasoning with a whiny child is like negotiating with terrorists. It’s no wonder the judge in Jesus’ parable concludes:
Even though I don’t fear God or care about people, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!
If only my daughter would learn another of Jesus’ teachings, which I imagine him saying with a touch of annoyance:
When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Then again, maybe I’m the one who needs to learn the lesson. The interesting thing about Jesus’ parable is that it compares God to an unjust judge, and claims we should be like the widow, persistently demanding justice even when God seems indifferent. And the Bible is full of such complaints. As one psalmist asks: “How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever?… Where, O Lord, is your former great love?” Or as Abraham demands: “Will not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” Yet how often are my own prayers less like these legitimate complaints, and more like my daughter’s selfish whining?
Perhaps even more importantly, how can I complain that God is unjust when I am as well? As frustrating as they can be when I’m trying to sleep or (eh hem) composing a blog post, my daughter’s complaints are not always selfish, and my momentary peace is less important than raising her well. If the thing she wants is truly something she needs–and I’m just too lazy to get up and get it–then the problem is not with her but with me. On the other hand, if the thing she wants is something she should not have, I should not give in just to quiet her down, that’s only my own selfishness giving in to hers.
Yet as much as I’d like to think that I too “know what she needs before she asks,” more often I’m like the unjust judge–concerned only for myself. It’s no wonder my daughter whines!