Lately one word, in the realm of the home life, has been kicking around in my brain, and it’s this word: “nurture.” According to Dictionary.com it means “to feed and protect; to support and encourage.” A definition of nurturing is “fondly tender.” Nurture, in a sense, is the positive and proactive component in parenting in which we intentionally show love and kindheartedness to our kids.
And I’ve had this realization: I don’t do it enough. I nurture my children on the fly – a goodnight kiss here, a quick after-nap hug for a crank, a fleeting expression of enthusiasm over the latest drawing. A passing slice of tenderness when circumstances demand. Usually, though, I’m too engaged in either 1) trying to diligently run my household, or 2) trying to consistently monitor and train/correct my children in what they’re doing to be proactive in nurture.
It called to mind this passage Elizabeth Kroeger writes in Raising Godly Tomatoes:
“When I first began writing about child rearing, I focused mostly on discipline because so many parents were failing in that area. They loved their children, but didn’t know how to discipline them. Then I began receiving criticism for ‘never writing about loving your children’… Beside making it possible to watch and correct your children, Tomato Staking makes it possible to nurture your children with love. Keep your children with you. Hug, kiss, sing, laugh and play with them. Include them in the things you are doing. Smile at them when they come to you to show you something. Welcome their attention. Answer their questions. Invite them into your lap for a cuddle. Let them crawl into your bed and snuggle up to you now and then. When they ask to help you, say, ‘Sure.’ Joke and laugh with them. Share with them your sense of humor. Be interested in the things they are interested in and be excited about their accomplishments as you tutor them in all of God’s ways. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Can a child who is the constant recipient of such joyful companionship ever doubt that he is deeply and profoundly loved? I don’t think so.”
I’m not a cold mom, but I realize I’ve fallen into the trap. The lion’s share of Raising Godly Tomatoes – just like most any parenting book you might pick up – is focused on training and correction. (The section quoted above is virtually the only part of the book that’s dedicated solely to demonstrating affection to our kids.) And, as if taking a cue from page numbers alone, I’ve put the lion’s share of my own parenting considerations into training and correction issues. The bulk of my child-ward consideration and effort goes into training and correction issues; a small fraction goes into proactive love. So tenderness is overlooked almost wholly.
It’s a sin not of commission – I do love my kids, and tangibly – but of omission. Because with my kids, I playground and read books and listen to car CD’s and bake cookies… but where is the intentional nurture? Where is the smiling heart and joyful touch and playful gesture? Where are the joyfully tender moments? These come with my youngest ones easily enough, but with the preschoolers, it’s only if the day’s circumstances and my own mood align just right that these emerge. This is not as it should be. God loves us proactively, tenderly, lavishly; this is the kind of love He would have me shower on my kids.
My friend has three kids the same genders and ages as our oldest three; she also hosts foreign exchange students in her home. Sh said that each student their family has hosted has made the same two comments about her and her husband’s parenting practices. These were: “You’re strict” and “You’re affectionate.” What a striking combination of characteristics, and how interesting that the same two observations were paired together repeatedly.
I don’t think an observer in my home would use the term “affectionate” to characterize my interactions with my children. But what a great goal for me to work toward.
Lately God’s been showing me that general intentions result in guilt and often produce no fruit; specific and small actions are where the real change takes place. (Ann’s Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts is persuasive on this point). So daily, I pray that God will help me put my hand on her hand when she’s talking to me. That I will put my arm around him when we’re reading the book. That I will hold her hand when we’re running down the sidewalk. That I’ll giggle with them while we’re baking. And then each day, as the Spirit prompts me, I do these things, one by one, as the hours of the day tick by. Because it starts there – the small, intentional gesture. I train myself, discipline myself like a runner getting ready for a race, to love my children through touch and with visible tenderness. And my heart grows warmer and the love takes flame there as I do these small acts.
And I see that God has so much more for us than I’ve been living out with my kids. He has deep, relational, affectionate joy in the day-to-day, if I can but take hold of that and live into that with them. My strict-and-affectionate fellow-mom friend said, “Obedience without joy is a misrepresentation of God,” and that’s true. And so obedience and joy must take root in our homes for God to be reflected in what we do here day to day. May my nurture be proactive, and may my days with my children be love-filled and joyful, as God would have it.