Sunday, November 27, 2011

Delayed Gratification

Everyone who sees me with the twins claims that although two may be a lot of work, “they will always have each other”.  I’ve even heard from other mothers of twins that the terrible-two’s are not so terrible because “they have each other”.  Unfortunately, such has not been my experience.  Admittedly the girls are not quite two, but instead of playing nicely together, they have started to fight over toys.  The first time I had to stifle a giggle (I know it is technically misbehaving, but it was pretty cute).  Both were playing with a toy, when out of nowhere Margaret grabbed Elisabeth’s toy and Elisabeth started whimpering, not fully understanding how her toy ended up in Margaret’s hands.   Now that it has become a daily occurrence, I don’t find it quite as amusing.  Elisabeth has figured out that she can start a tug-of-war to get the toy back, but when Margaret gives in and lets the toy go, it smacks Elisabeth square in the face and she topples over backward.  Two babies crying equals one exasperated mommy. 
It amazes me that the girls don’t seem to realize what they already have in their hand.  As soon as they see the other one’s toy, they have to grab it that second.  Even if they want the other’s toy, and I switch their toys, they are almost instantaneously dissatisfied and want the original toy again.  This proves to me that the girls have to be taught the idea of delayed gratification.  Up to this point all the major milestones have been achieved after some practice and simply play without much intervention on my part.  The fine motor skills need to eat table food?  Figured out after some weeks of grabbing self-feeders and sippy cups.  Standing up?  Much practice pulling themselves up by our furniture.  Walking?  Months of crawling, standing, cruising, and walking with some help.  And yet the impulsive fighting over toys is a behavior that needs to be instructively corrected.
The idea of delayed gratification came up on NPR on my way to work one February morning.  The reporter for the broadcast quoted a study that links self control learned in the preschool years to success in adulthood (you can read the transcript on   I almost choked on my coffee, not because it was so shocking, but because it was actually newsworthy.  So if I teach my child now that she can’t get what she wants immediately, she will be a well-adjusted adult later on?  Who would have thought?!  Nevertheless, what I did find interesting was that the psychologist concluded that self-control is not an inherited trait…it has to be taught.
As an adult I find myself daily struggling with accepting delayed gratification.  And understandably, as our culture becomes ever more addicted to the latest technology, it is easy to become frustrated when we don’t get what we want right away.  Think of the whole concept of online shopping.  Browse products artfully photographed, and simply click to buy.  If you buy often from the same site, you don’t even need to take the time to type in your payment information.  Click and done.  I recently bought a Smartphone, and I am blown away by how fast and easily I can check my e-mail  and Facebook page at anytime and almost anywhere.  The technology industry advertises speed in their gadgets, and by doing so they are able to expand in this slow economy.
Greg and I were considering buying a house.  We’ve looked at a couple homes (and kind of panicked when we calculated the costs) and ultimately decided to put the search on hold.  On the days when I am tripping over the baby toys in the living room and running out of spaces to place things high enough so curious hands won’t be able to reach, I dream of a cute little cape on a dead-end road with a cute little garden growing in a charming little yard.  When I am out for a walk in our current neighborhood, I covet the neatly landscaped yards and wooden swing sets.  Sometimes I take advantage of the peaceful time outside and pray for a home for our family.  I know that in my prayers I sound like Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: “But Daddy, I want it NOWWW!”  But through contemplation I have begun to realize that nothing has value unless you have to work at it.  Those beautifully landscaped yards have a lot of time and money put into them.  My desire for a house has consequently progressed from frustration to thoughtful steps towards purchasing one.  And I have accepted that it will take some time.
Our Heavenly Father has placed so many systems of delayed gratification in our life to teach us patience and gratitude.  Look at some examples: the years of education before starting a specific career, the period of engagement before getting married, and a nine-month pregnancy before the bundle of joy arrives.  So I guess He wants us to grow into well-adjusted, successful adults…or perhaps more accurately, Saints.  As the verse from the book of Jeremiah is so often quoted, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope”.  Many Protestant translations use the phrase “plans to prosper you.”  Although many Christians have found success and prosperity financially, it is easy to overlook the fact that prosperity can also mean happiness and satisfaction with our lot in life.  I had a blessed Thanksgiving as I reflected on the many invaluable things in my life, such as a steady job, good health, enough money for food and shelter, and my family above all.  The opposite of poverty is enough, and by that standard my family lives like kings. 
Of course, the greatest example of delayed gratification is entering into Heaven.  I’ve learned in the Catholic faith that salvation is not achieved in a moment of reciting the universal sinner’s prayer accepted by many Protestant denominations.  Achieving salvation, surely by the Grace of God, can only be achieved at the end of one’s life, after the completion of the race St. Paul describes to Timothy.  God wants us to learn delayed gratification in the little things in order to experience it in the greatest way.
So I will sit in between the girls and show them what they have in their hand is good enough for now, and that their instant happiness is not dependant on having that other toy immediately.  I will patiently wait until they start to appreciate the fact that “they have each other”.  And it is my daily hope and prayer that they will learn these vital lessons, not only so they will have a successful adulthood (according to NPR), but so they will also grow to love having enough, and understand and experience the ultimate prosperity God has for them.