Twice in the New Testament, writers make reference to the maturity of believers’ faith (or lack thereof) by drawing an analogy to babies and their eating habits – milk for infants vs. solid food for older children (1 Cor 3:2 and Heb 5:12-13). Such a clear cut example of a baby’s early developmental stage- the type of food he consumes. Milk for infants, solid foods for older babies on up. Done.
If only it were always this easy to assess kids’ stages, maturity, and overall development. I often get stuck continuing to interact with my children, or having expectations for them, that fit a prior stage of development rather than today’s. My “Dealing with Drama” post covered one example – I was interacting with my daughter as if she were still a baby with baby emotions and capacities when in reality, willful toddler tendencies had come into play. I was working with an outdated picture of her.
I’ve also recently been surprised to find my son more capable of doing things than I gave him credit for. He can now be expected to pick up the toys he’s been playing with before starting another activity; he can pull up his own underwear and pants after using the potty. Realizing and employing this knowledge benefits both him and me, though such developments are also easy to overlook. I know I can’t be the only mom who gets stuck in old phases (did anyone ever catch the Supernanny where the mom still has her 6-year old drinking from sippy cups just because she didn’t know he didn’t need it anymore?) – it’s just a matter of me noticing the developments and staying on top of them.
As a mom, I need to be diligent about noticing the developmental capabilities my kids are growing into so I can work with them to thrive in their blossoming skills. Such they can learn independence and I can employ reasonable expectations. In a recent talk I heard by a mother of six (5 being quintuplets) on cultivating kids’ independence, she said, “I constantly ask myself what I’m doing for my children that they could be doing for themselves.” She also pointed out that helping them work out the newly acquired skills takes intentionality and patience on her part. You can’t expect a six-year old just learning to tie his shoes to breeze through it in the two minutes before exiting the house.
This becomes important, too, in intentionally training our kids and maintaining appropriate expectations. I know of one mother who doesn’t directly correct or set limits with her children until they’ve gained verbal skills- perhaps thinking that since her kids can’t reply to spoken instruction, it doesn’t make sense to provide it. But then when her two-year olds gain adequate language skills, the rules abruptly change — suddenly they’re being corrected and reprimanded in new and foreign ways without any continuity and consistency in expectation from their prior phase.
No doubt I inadvertently employ similar practices in some areas of my mothering… failing to treat my children with consistency and in age-appropriate ways. It can be a tough nut to crack. On one hand we want treat our children fairly and reasonably. On the other hand, many mothers’ expectations are too low for their children (I know mine often are) – we moms are, after all, biased toward our own kids and can easily make excuses for poor behavior or unlearned skills. I am finding this can be especially easy to do with one’s younger child or children, because the issues and concerns of the older can take precedence while the younger is, in our minds, “after all just a baby”… but most often to her detriment and mine.
God is a great model for us here. He knows where we are in our “development” and always has love, grace, and patience for us as his children… but He never lowers His standards, or His expectations for our behavior. He is completely fair and grace-filled toward us while also wholly committed to our righteousness and maturity. (And helpfully and not coincidentally, He’s also the one with the wisdom to help us assess what our children are ready for and ensure that we’re providing them the figurative ‘milk’ and ‘solids’ at the right times…)