Hope is a powerful thing. It can enable us to persevere knowing that our desires will be fulfilled, and our patience rewarded.
I’ve learned this from my toddler -- a little before she turned two. Every now and then I have a “Eureka!” parenting moment when something finally makes sense to me. I had one of those moments one day last winter, before the chaos of COVID interrupted normal life so badly.
I was faced with intentionally disappointing my daughter in order to maintain some semblance of responsible parenting. You see, she wanted chocolate animal crackers for the third time that morning. You would think that chocolate animal crackers were the bread of life. Well from her perspective they practically are!
Anyway, I was dreading the inevitable tantrum that would come by telling her, “No more chocolate animal crackers. You’ve already had them twice this morning.” But instead, in a flash of inspiration I told her, “Not yet. We’ll have some more chocolate animal crackers after lunch.”
“Okay,” she responded and toddled off.
Internally I was braced for it. But it didn’t come. No shrieking, no wailing, no toddler equivalent of “Woe is me! My father is depriving me from the very food that sustains all life as I know it!”
She just toddled off. Contently and without fuss. Could it be that the hope and assurance of getting them later was enough?
I’m a scientist and engineer at heart, so I had to test my hypothesis. Fortunately, life with a toddler gives lots of opportunity for this kind of “experimentation.” Sure enough, the hope of getting something later was enough, as long as it was a reasonable period of time from the toddler’s perspective. Sometimes this amounted to no more than 30-45 seconds of delay, but many tantrums were subsequently averted with my newfound parental wisdom. When possible and appropriate, my “no” shifted to “not quite yet.”
She will hold me to my “not quite yet.” She knows that it means “sometime soon” and I have to remain faithful to my word in order to maintain her trust. If I fed her false hope her trust would soon be gone.
Solomon wrote about hope in his book of wise sayings:
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12 (NIV)
Give others hope and avoid false hope.
This column originally appeared in the Feb. 17, 2021 issue of the Baldwin Bulletin.