Heart Pondering

The ponderings of one Christ-following mom on raising preschoolers

Responding to defiance: progress January 30, 2011

Filed under: Correction,For moms,The heart,Training — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 10:54 pm

Early this month my sister and her family were in town, and we spent a wonderful week together with our combined five children under age 6.  Her daughters are, like mine, ages 3 and 1 – just slightly younger versions.

Our 3-year old is strong-willed and extremely stubborn. Sometimes she amazes me in her sheer longevity in rebelliousness. I wonder: isn’t she exhausted from all this resistance, kept up for so long? (I know I am.)  The girl is wired to stick to her guns at all costs, even when experience shows that she will not prevail in defiance.

During her visit my sister witnessed several instances in which my daughter was very defiant in an outwardly rude way; two in particular stick out. After the second my sister commented on my response to my daughter’s rather outrageous behavior – that I’d addressed her calmly and not gotten riled up as I worked with her till she relented and apologized.  “I would have been so angry at behavior like that if I were in your shoes!” she said. Her tone was honest, earnest, no hidden message or criticism.

I felt two simultaneous responses, conflicting ones.  One was: I guess I’m making progress if I can calmly work with my daughter through her misbehavior without having it overly inflame my emotions and ruin my day. The second was: wow, she really is that rude and defiant at times, even after having corrected her for months and years on these issues. Shouldn’t she be getting past this by now? Am I doing something wrong in my training – misapplying my methods, perhaps, or lacking consistency or thoroughness in them?

The first response is truer and more helpful; it’s the one I want to camp on emotionally and mentally. I remember a year ago feeling so frustrated by my children’s misbehaviors when they occurred. I’d do okay during the actual correcting part as I worked with a kid – calm and not too rattled – but then I couldn’t mentally and emotionally let go of the incident afterwards. When another issue would come up, even with another child, say twenty minutes later, I wouldn’t yet have fully regained my equilibrium from the last one; I was operating under a deficit. The effect was that I’d often feel like I was being ratcheted up throughout the day, each infraction and correction process irking me a bit more as the hours wore on.

Part my problem was over-thinking, but another part was an unrealistic view of sin in my children. Because I believed – and still believe – that intentional training can build obedience into children and bring harmony to a a home, I internalized the concept that my children should, in effect, sin less with each passing day. Their misbehaviors should wane predictably; their selfishness should dry up over time. And while it’s true that godly childrearing practices do shape children in their hearts and behaviors, bringing forth fruit over time, it’s not true that my kids’ sinfulness will basically disappear by the time they’re school-aged simply through my parenting them well. It’s just not.

So if my son struggles with a complaining spirit (and he does), we will likely see this issue in one form or another for a long time. For all I know he may combat a tendency to complain his whole life. It may wane as my husband and I consistently train and correct him (and we pray it does!), but it may not go away completely. Ditto my daughter’s stubbornness and streak toward rebellious independence. God made her stubborn; we pray that He’ll shape that resolve for good as she grows, matures, and develops self-control and a love for Christ. May she become stubborn for righteousness and justice! But I’m probably not going to see her defiance completely melt away and a compliant spirit fully replace it, no matter how intentional, prayerful, and consistent I am in my mothering.

It goes back to the “once-and-for-all parenting” delusion that I referred to in my “Childrearing Top 10′ post from last summer. The quote, from Katherine of Raising Five, was so good that I’ll repeat it here.

“I spent much of my early years trying to do everything perfectly. Somehow I got the idea that if I did everything right – if I love my kids enough, use just the right discipline techniques, if I train them well enough in how to behave – I would never have to struggle in parenting them. My delusion even somehow included the idea that conflict would even disappear from my home, because I was doing everything properly. My kids would naturally want to obey me, sit at my feet and hear my words of wisdom, and, like Cinderella, my home would be a ‘happily ever after’ kind of place. I had ‘fixed’ them.

It was a delusion, alright. An arrogant, fanatical, un-Biblical idea, that I could singlehandedly purge the sin-nature right out of my children! If only I had known it is not so much about being perfect – and the guilt and exhaustion that inevitably accompany it – as it is about not giving up.”

I definitely feel the faithfulness of God over the past six or nine months, bringing me to a more balanced place when it comes to viewing and interacting with my children. The conversation with my sister reiterated this for me. My kids are sinners; they will so often act in ways I wish they wouldn’t ways I’m actively training them not to, in fact! But God, praise be to Him, uses time and repetition and falling down and getting up again (and again and again) to gradually shape us into Christlikeness.  And most of all He uses grace and undergirding love – grace toward me; grace toward them. Grace toward them through me, even. Amazing.


3 Responses to “Responding to defiance: progress”

  1. Valerie Says:

    Oh, how I know the being ratcheted feeling. I live there, spinning my wheels, just desperate for His grace. This is HARD work!

    This is a very transparent post – I struggle to find the balance you write of, being okay with the truth that those tendencies may be in our children into adulthood, while remaining consistent in mothering. Ouch, I don’t know how ‘okay’ I am with that truth… It makes my lazy flesh want to relax in some areas of mothering.

    This is why I read your blog: Your ‘overthinking’ is great for us mothers that need to be sharpened. You don’t present easy ideas that would compromise conservative parenting beliefs. The truths you write don’t feed flesh, they challenge our mothering souls and minds.

    If you feel like it, for a future post, please share your thoughts on if/how you believe your daughter’s behavior influences your youngest – does he ever get confused if she cries or yells and try to do it also? Do you discipline both or her only with a stern warning for him? I’m doing a lot of thinking about how my sons’ limited allowed rough-housing might be confusing my toddler daughter, who gets a swat for yelling instead of ‘asking nicely’, etc.

    Either way, thanks for another thoughtful post!

  2. Amanda Says:

    Another great post! 🙂 I have found that I have to maintain that calm, loving but exceptionally consistent discipline (weather it’s a simple talking-to or something more) AND toss in just a bit of my humanity into the mix. I was finding that in striving for the perfectly calm, even-toned response, my kids were viewing me as almost a robot-mom whose feelings couldn’t be hurt. I had to find (and it’s so hard! I tend to one extreme or another) a delicate balance so that they are realizing they need to do the right thing primarily because it’s Godly/correct/acceptable/expected, but also a dash of realization that because mommy isn’t perfect, everyone has to work together for a peaceful house. I had to make them understand that not only is constant correction not fun for them, but it’s not fun for me either.

  3. heartpondering Says:

    Thanks for the comments, girls; much appreciated. Valerie, your thought about the influences of the olders on the youngers is a great one, and would in fact be a great topic to explore in a future post. I’ll work on that 🙂
    Amanda, I agree about the humanity and limitations of the mom – and expressing these appropriately. We are not robots, nor is the goal to present as robots! It’s funny how kids come to think that the ‘job’ of the mom is just to do mom-ish things all day (including correcting) and the personhood of the mom is lost. When my son comment – or complains(!) – about the work that he’s doing, I often end up asking: “Do you think Mommy always feels like cooking dinner for everyone every night? Or washing the pots? You’re right, no, sometimes I’d rather not, but I don’t complain out it”… Kind of looking for ways to point out points of comparison…

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