I was thinking about yesterday's post, wondering if perhaps I have been kind of harsh. I didn't mean to imply that I did things right and other moms do things wrong. I just meant to explain why I cannot relate to some of the parenting frustrations other moms go to, and why I sometimes cannot offer appropriate encouragement or advice.
I laid in bed last night thinking about why I have done things the way I described. I was raised outside of the church by half German, half Venezuelan families. I have no question in mind that I was loved. But I also remember a lot of times where I was not "spoiled". From my earliest memories I remember that I was loved not because I got what I wanted but because my parents, grandmothers, aunts and uncles loved me. And I believed how my momma and daddy raised me, well, works.
But then as I was praying and thinking about it, God revealed to me some verses that also guide my parenting thought process more than any other "school". There is a kaleidoscope of ways to be a mom, from the co-sleeping, breastfeeding forever, super attached moms to the disciplinarian, apparently distant moms that are more common in cultures outside of the United States. Did you know that in some tribes in Africa moms will avoid eye contact with babies? Their way of life requires for children to be as independent as possible by the time they're 3 years old. Children that young may be left in homes while adults go hunt or work for food. It's hard for me personally to imagine not responding to my baby's smile, but I cannot judge these moms and say, "They don't love their children!" The point is, their parenting is intentional because they are raising children that will survive in their society. They cannot have needy, crying children that chase after mom, or refuse to stay home, or want to be held all the time. I'm thankful my way of life is a lot easier.
And whether you are raising children in Africa, Japan, Germany, or the US, your parenting needs to be intentional too. That is the point!
You can read thousands of parenting articles from different schools of thoughts and do all the research on the subject, but as for me, I turn to the Bible. I cannot separate God's Word from what I do. So this is where I start:
What the Bible says about me as a MOM:
1) Proverbs 22:6
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
It is my belief that we begin this parenting journey with the end in mind. We mold them while they're young with the hope that it will shape them as adults. It involves guidance and being future-minded. And active parenting. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that, in the words of Sebastian from The Little Mermaid, "children should be free to lead their own life." It also puts me at the driver's seat of our home.
In a practical application, I can say that Caleb has lost his temper and hit his siblings when he doesn't get his way. I think of how this kind of attitude would look like when he's an adult - is it ok to hit his wife? To smack his kids? So I don't tell him he can't do that simply to referee in my household, but I work on his attitude that it's not ok to demand your own way to the point of hurting someone else. And I teach him to express his emotions using words. Because if it doesn't look cute as an adult it really isn't something to shrug about as a child. I don't expect my children to "just get over it" or "outgrow that stage" when the Bible says it's my job to lead the children in the way they should go because the habits (emotional, physical, and spiritual) they develop as children will be what carries them as adults.
On the note of habits, practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent. So if you do an exercise with improper form three times a week for a year, you are not improving your health at all. You've just taught your muscle memory to do things wrong permanently. So having my children interact with the same attitude over and over will not miraculously cause them to think or behave better - I have to guide them with the right attitude so they practice that from the get go.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Some people believe that you should let children choose their own faith. I believe I'm supposed to raise my kids according to my faith. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that it's the Children's Pastor or the Youth Pastor or the Sunday School Teacher or the Public/Private School's job to teach them the instruction and training of the Lord. Teaching children about faith is specifically listed as the parent's responsibility.
I find it interesting that the Bible says the solution to avoid exasperating your children is to train them in the Lord. And the way I can reconcile this is by putting all things into a Biblical perspective.
The Lord made us all different, and with different personalities. I accept that between you and me as moms. I also accept that between my children and me. I know Brielle is not as organized as me. I know that Anakin is not as courageous as me. I should not exasperate them by fussing at them to be more like me, because that's a dead end that only leads to frustration. We may never see eye to eye on how to put laundry away or whether or not to eat french fries. And even though the Word puts me at the driver's seat of my household (or at least, the front passenger if my hubby is home), that does not mean that their individuality and their will gets thrown out the window.
Rather, it means that in all things I teach them to be like Christ. And Christ taught us to love and honor one another even if we're right. He also teaches us to submit to Him and to others, to put others before ourselves, to speak the truth in love. Our individuality does not allow us to be disrespectful or disobedient to anyone, but we learn to express ourselves within the confines of love with one another. Here is the key to teach a child why he should obey you even if he disagrees with you.
So as a practical example and with this end in mind, I can tell Brielle to clean her room. And Brielle has a random, typical artist type of brain so her version of a clean room is usually NOTHING like what I have in mind. So I work with her and with myself and make clear some ground rules and expectations: No clean clothes on the floor - it goes in a drawer. No dirty clothes in the floor, it goes in a hamper. No toys on the floor, it goes in a toybox. I will not lie to you, Brielle puts her toys in her drawers and keeps her clothes in toy buckets because it's more accessible to her. But she'll pick everything up off the floor. I can choose to exasperate her by yelling my head off because her socks aren't matched and she has pjs and blue jeans in the same drawer. Or I can teach her that the Bible tells us to be good stewards of the things we are blessed with, and that even in creation God is a God of order and not chaos. So the happy medium is that as long as a) her stuff is being cared for properly b) she can find what she needs immediately when she needs it - then we're good! And more than just teaching her not to roll her eyes at me when I say she needs to clean her room or how to have her room the way I would have it, I'm teaching her that in all things she needs to obey Christ.
3) 2 Corinthians 5:20
So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
I am fully aware of how little we care about our ambassadors in this day and age. But in the heart of the matter, an ambassador is an exact representation of the Kingdom he/she represents, and whatever the ambassador says or does is as good as if the King from that land had said so Himself. Food for thought when it comes to parenting...
The relationship the children have with me will be their prototype for the relationship they will have with God as adults. This is not something I take likely.
Although "submission" is such an ugly word in today's society, the gospel truth is that we cannot have a relationship with God without submitting to Christ. And my children learn what all submission means from me. And it's a good thing, really.
Submission implies a certain level of respect, or what the Bible describes as "fear of the Lord". It means we cannot have a loving, healthy relationship with the Lord while we simultaneously disrespect or disobey Him. So the kids need to practice, and that with me, how disobedience or disrespect doesn't work in a healthy relationship.
Submission implies a certain level of trust. We submit to Christ because we believe His character is good, and He is trustworthy, so even if we don't like what we are instructed or we are afraid we follow Christ - at times blindly - because we know He has our best interest in mind. How much more in parenting! I need my kids to trust me and know that everything is for their good - whether they like it, understand it, or not.
And guess what - we are all in submission to one thing or another. No man is above the law. We submit to our spouses, to our bosses, to our teachers. The best leaders are the people who can be trusted to have people in submission to them because they are in submission (or accountable to) someone higher than them. The best athletes submit to their coach. The best students submit to their teachers.
But within the boundary that this submission concept establishes, lies a relationship filled with unconditional love, comfort, and wisdom! Relationship being the key. Submission is the means to a much greater end and if my kids can't practically see that end between them and me than they will have no motivation to submit to God. There are treasures to uncover if you follow the instructions on a treasure map - and this applies to obeying God's Word, and to obeying Mom and Dad, and I want my children to experience these treasures in me as a representation of the relationship they can have with God the Father.
So practically speaking, it means that even though they are not allowed to sleep with Paul and me, doesn't mean that I won't pray with them at their bedside after a nightmare or won't get up and help them clean up if they puked. They may have to eat all that's on their plate but when I can, I ask them what they would like to eat and take them up for suggestions. Jesus expressed that even us, in our wickedness, long to meet the needs of our children and give them what they ask for (and how much more the Father wants to bless us!).
No where in the Bible does it say it's my job to make my children happy. Or anyone else for that matter. Can you imagine if I posted on Facebook, "Your job as a wife is to make your husband happy."? Feminists would burn me alive. Wanting someone else's happiness is a byproduct of loving someone else and comes quite naturally. But it's not our responsibility. And we can create a whole bunch of problems, one of them being codependency, if we make it our job to make other people happy. My role as mom and ambassador of Christ is to teach my children to find their joy in Christ and point to Him for the emotional stability only He can fill. So they don't expect anyone else to make them happy.
And so, as it relates to crying, I don't believe that a child needs comfort every time he/she cries. What they may need is a change of perspective, much like I need as an adult when I'm throwing a pity party. It's not my job to stop their crying and turn every tear into a smiley face. Christ alone was the one who promised that He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. I handle tears within the confines of my Biblical responsibility. There is a huge difference between crying because they want a toy and crying because the dog died or their friend moved away. I don't diminish their emotional need for comfort but I won't foster a self-centered attitude. Personally I rely on the Bible for the wisdom to know the difference and to know what I want to cultivate in my children deep in their hearts, in the wellspring of their lives.
I personally believe that these Biblical principles are universal. You may not apply them exactly the way I do and your children are entirely different from mines - so that's probably a good thing. But at the heart of this parenting matter is the fact that whether we do or don't, whatever decision we make for our children, it needs to be intentional. It is nobody else's job to raise our children but ours! How many children are handed the crackers and the TV remote ONLY because mom wants them busy and occupied so they can move on to something else? How many absent-minded parenting decisions are made to make things smoother at the moment without having the long-term consequence of that decision in mind? Then we wonder why all these children turn into teenagers that have no earthly clue what the purpose for living is and the answer is because very few parents in this society do any purposeful parenting! So whether you choose to respond a certain way - or not - if nothing else understand the Biblical implication that these decisions carry a heavy long-term weight, in this life and in the life to come. I write of what I know, but whether pagan or Christian or Muslim or Jew, parenting is one thing we cannot do haphazardly.