Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about these words of Paul’s in the epistles: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” Paul as a child was… childish. Just like every other human in the world. Nothing revolutionary here.
But I’ve been thinking that I so often balk at the childishness of my children. Their very nature as children can seem problematic to the mother who is seeking to consistently correct. Over time it becomes exasperating to continue to see the same sin emerging time and time again in my son or daughters… Shouldn’t this be trained out of them by now? Why are we still having this issue?
And yet Paul explains that children act like children; it’s part of God’s design. We should expect them to; we should accept this. The definition of childish is: “of, like, or befitting a child.” My children act childish. Yours, no doubt, do too.
After pondering this for a while and reading posts from other like-minded moms (moms who seek to train their children comprehensively and consistently correct sinful behavior) on a message board I follow, God helped me to finally articulate the conflict I’ve been having in my soul regarding my parenting goals. It’s this: I seek to train my children to behave in a godly manner in every situation, parenting with watchfulness and consistency to this end. I believe in high expectations and am intentional in my efforts… and yet simultaneously, my children go on sinning. The net result is that I feel frustrated and disappointed. More so, I think, than I would feel if I were not being quite so watchful and intentional about training and consistency.
I voiced this observation to a friend of mine who parents similarly to me, and she echoed my conclusion. “I end up feeling angry,” she said, “and I notice that my anger mirrors the heart attitudes of my children when I’m trying to train them. I’m trying to get what I’m after in the situation (in this case, prevailing in training efforts), just like they’re trying to get what they’re after – the thing that’s causing me to correct them in the first place.” She pointed out that her tendency toward perfectionism can exacerbate the situation. “I’m an analyzer and an improver, and I have no trouble seeing the negative in a given situation. So when I parent too much in this way, I end up feeling like my kids are projects more than people. What I mostly need is focus and effort to embrace and celebrate the positive.”
That really resonated with me. And I agreed with my friend, too, that one challenge you find in all the parenting books you read is that they generally don’t take into account the temperament and starting point of the parents. A type-A parent whose inclination is to see and fix the problems needs to take this into account when she considers her mothering goals and efforts.
My kids are childish. They need consistent correction, yes, but just as much they need an advocate, a nurturer, and a mother who believes in them and takes the long view about their character development. Thus, I need to be AS intentional about nurturing and enjoying them as I am about correcting them. And I’m not. I’m stressed about parenting, to some degree – worrying about how they’re in the next room being rude to one another and I can’t get there fast enough to see and correct them. In my mind there lurks the vague fear that I’m failing, somewhat, because their childishness continues to poke through all the time. This is MY wrong emphasis, and my sin. And it’s not fair to my kids.
It was no coincidence that I ran across this perfect quote called in a blog post called “Anger and Expectations in Parenting.” Stacy (of With Great Joy) quotes Terri Maxwell as saying:
I can almost be assured that if I become angry with a child, it is because my expectations match my goals for him. It is essential that we have high, godly goals for our children. We want to lead them to the best of their ability spiritually and educationally. However, in this process of moving toward the goals, we must keep our expectations lower than those goals. When I expect my child to have reached a high goal, then I am likely to become angry with him if he hasn’t. On the other hand, if I expect my child to have not yet reached the goal, then my spirit is at peace with the training and teaching process as we strive to reach those goals.
It is so much a matter of perspective. The Lord has given us a definite role in our children’s lives. If they are spiritually and educationally mature as children, then why are we to train them up? Why are we told to discipline them? It is because children will spend their childhoods working toward the ‘high goals’ the Lord has set for them. They will make progress toward those goals, but it may not be as quick or discernable as we would like it to be. Aren’t we glad the Lord doesn’t get angry with us every time we fall short of His goals for us?”
This has helped me so much. High expectations and goals for the long-term; appropriately lower ones for the short term — a realistic sense of our children in their childishness. This feels, mentally speaking, like kind of a breakthrough for me. Now just to pray and live into it daily…