Last Saturday, my best friend and her husband from Melbourne visited me. We had a wonderful time catching up and when she asked me about the children, my difficult times with Jayna inevitably came up. As I related to her my experience raising Jayna, I realised that God was there every step of the way. It was a deep spiritual journey for us parents and for herself. Our Lord had deemed it fit to place Jayna in our family for our mutual growth.
I feel that the whole process is worth remembering so that in the future, we can all look back on those milestones in our walk with God and continue to build upon the foundation that Christ has already put in place...
We had at first intended to take Joash out of childcare, which he started attending three months before Jayna was born, once the girl was more settled. However, she never so-called 'settled in'. Even though I was already an experienced mother and knew how to handle most baby needs, it was maddening when Jayna defied all logic.
I could not figure out her rhythm at all as nothing could satisfy her for long; not milk, not play, not sleep, not burping, not entertainment and no amount of carrying was enough for her. It was still manageable in the first few months because she took long naps. But as her waking hours increased over time, I found myself unable to do anything without her in my arms or in the sling. I was mostly house-bound for the first year of her life as she was impossible to manage outside. I started sinking into depression as she drained me physically and emotionally till I started to break down. That was the year I put on a lot of weight due to the stress I experienced. Gradually, I found myself losing my temper and began screaming at her uncontrollably to stop crying after I'd done all I knew to do to help her. I hated myself for losing control but I was incapable of stopping.
Without her, I would have been a conceited mother who thought she had it all figured out. I would have shook my head at parents who lose their temper at their kids. But God had to use her to bring me to my knees in brokeness and desperate prayer.
With Joash, I started spanking him for disobedience ever since he showed signs of wilfulness at 7 months old. I only needed to do so very sparingly as he has all along been a sensible boy and could listen and obey after other gentler methods of discipline. However, I dared not start using spanking as a form of discipline on Jayna as I was afraid that it would lead to child abuse given my lack of calm whenever I dealt with her. I had absolutely no confidence in myself and feared spanking her out of anger. As it was, screaming at her regularly had already done enough damage to our relationship.
When she was about 8 months old, God finally gave me a mental picture of what Jayna's problem was: she had a leaking love tank. No matter how much I try to fill her love tank in my care-giving, it will drain out very quickly. Instead of being born with a physical birth defect, she had an emotional handicap, metaphorically a hole in her heart. God reminded me that it was my job to relentlessly fill up her love tank but it was ultimately God Himself who would plug the hole at the bottom.
With that revelation, I had a paradigm shift. I began learning to love her unconditionally and trusted in God to do His work. When I had no more love in me to give her, I drew strength from the Lord. Bit by bit, our relationship began to heal and I could see the fear and bewilderment in my daughter's eyes subside. I sought the advice of the children's Godma who has always been more emotionally driven than me to understand my girl better. By the time Jayna was a year old, I could talk about her to others without falling apart and bursting into tears. (HERE's my first blog post about my struggles with her.)
It was an ardous journey and despite wanting to have a third child, we did not want to risk getting pregnant till Jayna was of age to attend childcare. It was tough enough being pregnant with a wonderful boy like Joash. It would have been a disaster with the difficult-to-please Jayna. When the day finally came for her to attend school, we constantly received complaints regarding her tantrums and neediness. They were equally troubled by her insistence to be carried all the time. We were even advised to take her out of school when she did not "adjust" after a long time.
Thankfully, with all that interaction with the other children her age and the company of her doting brother in the same school, Jayna seemed to have realised that she was extremely different from other children. God must have instilled in her the sudden awareness that it was not a normal thing to cry all the time for no apparent reason. She observed the other kids following instructions and playing contentedly on their own and finally understood that she was the odd one out. The world simply did not revolve around her. It was then that we saw glimpses of improvement in her behaviour but she did not yet have the capacity to make real changes in herself. At the very least, the teachers eventually stopped calling us regarding her extreme behaviour. I suppose they were also learning how to cope with her. (HERE's one of the glimpses of the potential change in Jayna.)
All this while, Joshua had never raised his voice at the children. He has always been the patient one. However, when I fell pregnant with Jaide, he had to manage the two kids by himself and for the first time, he understood what I went through with Jayna. It was not long before I started hearing my gentle, sweet bear of a husband yelling in his booming voice at my screaming girl. Joash was not spared since Joshua could not switch his demeanour between children the way I could.
It was a sad and painful time for Joshua to also come to terms with the fact that he was not as patient as he thought he was. As traumatising as it was, my husband was humbled and began learning to cope and relate to our daughter in a radical way. I tried to share with him what I learnt but it did not make the process any easier for him.
After Jaide was born, I had the opportunity to homeschool the older two. That was when I saw the chance to start the real process of discipline. Since I was able to have bible study every weekday with them, it was much easier to anchor the discipline in the Word of God. By then, I was able to keep my temper in check when I dealt with her and I have had invested a lot of effort in filling up her love tank over the years so I felt ready to begin the scary process. I also noticed that no one who had spent time with her, be it relatives, friends or teachers, really liked her due to her problematic behaviour so it was high time we did something about it.
It was incredibly tough the first few months. I had to steel myself to spanking her more than ten times a day due to her rebellious nature. The process was so tedious: I had to spend a lot of time diffusing her raging emotions through much affection, explaining to her using what we learnt from the bible when she finally calmed down, administering the discipline and then resolving the issue through reaffirmation of love, followed by prayer. Yet, a few moments later, I had to do it all over again when she threw another tantrum. I wanted to give up so many times that I lost count and I constantly needed to draw strength and confidence from God that I was doing it out of love for her. (HERE's a snapshot of my state of mind then.)
In the middle of the year, we went for a church camp. That was when God raised the bar. I had all along focused on merely helping Jayna to become more acceptable in her behaviour but the Lord reminded me that His plan for my girl was way beyond that. With her gift of emotions, Jayna has the potential to be a great agent of empathy. I must see her the way God sees her: a missionary for His Purposes. (HERE's the post about the camp)
People started noticing the change in her but the burst of growth did not happen till her acceptance of Christ into her life a month later. Jesus was no longer simply WITH her; He was already IN her heart and she had the available resources to keep her emotions in check. She flourished after that. (HERE's the evidence for that change in her.)
When I got pregnant with Joram, Joshua started slipping into the old way of handling Jayna back when I was pregnant with Jaide. The yelling started again. Alarmed, I had to help Joshua see that Jayna is no longer the same person from one and a half years ago. She has changed and that calls for a new way of relating to her as befitting a princess. It took some time but I thank God that Joshua has eventually learnt, too, to treat our redeemed daughter differently.
We truly celebrate every evidence of her spiritual and emotional growth and I look forward to seeing how God will continue to mold us and her into Christ-likeness. To God be the glory!