Teaching your children to love the standard is at the very heart of Christian parenting. When Mom wrote about “lowering the standards,” it naturally raised a lot of questions about how you teach little kids to love the standard. How can we teach them to love high standards? How can we help them internalize the whole of the law, and not externally conform to whatever they have to. If you teach your children to conform, simply because it is easier for everyone, you are setting them up to do exactly that when they go out into the world. What you want is for your children to form a deep love for and loyalty to the law of God. But how do you do this in the day-to-day operations of a household with small children?
First of all, when you have very little people that you are raising, their world is full of rules. You cannot avoid it. But the vast majority of those rules are really things that guide all of humanity. We don’t play in the potty water. People don’t. You can’t. We don’t put our feet on the table during dinner. It’s a good rule of thumb that we all abide by. Don’t cut other people’s hair without permission. It won’t get you anywhere. Mom doesn’t do it, Dad doesn’t do it. People don’t. Steer clear of it. These things are not fruit trees in the garden, they are part of the fence. We stay (all of us) inside this fence. So there is nothing oppressive about rules like these. You have to have them because society depends on them, no biggie.
But what about all the things that are well within the garden walls that we just wish we didn’t have to let our children do? What about markers? What about sitting slothfully on the couch? What about tarrying by the fridge with the door open? What about pouring yourself milk when you are a bad judge of distance? Are these Christian standards that we must impose on our children, or are they just things that parents don’t like? These are the sorts of things that you need to keep an eye on. Not on your kids, but on yourself.
Christian families very rightfully value discipline and order. Your children need to obey you. The house ought to be in order. I spend much of my days making sure that my children obey, and the rest of the days (and some of the nights) trying to get the house in order. But the fruit of the Spirit, the evidence of God’s work in the hearts of His people, does not include them. Not even a shout out to organization. No mention of general orderliness. What about the toothpaste? Why doesn’t God commend the people who squeeze it properly?!
Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self Control.
Sample conversation, held next to the dry erase board:
“If you don’t quickly complete the seven chores that I gave you to do before breakfast, there are some serious consequences! Hanging in the balance of your performance is my love. Your joy. Your peace, my patience. My kindness, your goodness. Your faithfulness, my gentleness and self control. It’s all on you, kid!”
If we look at what we hope to see in our children, is it the fruit of the Spirit? Really? Or does it look more like this:
“But the fruit of the spirit is cleaning up after yourself quickly and quietly, and remembering to stick with your younger sibling on the buddy system. It is saying sir and ma’am, and not picking your nose. It looks worshipful during devotions, and never complains about its chores. It is never playing in the mud and never being loud in the house. It likes to read quietly to younger siblings, and never bothers its mother during the quiet of the afternoon during silent time when she is on the internet.”
How does this happen to us? How do we so totally forget what we are actually raising? These are children, they are eternal souls. They are not supposed to be easy. They are not supposed to pass through our homes like quiet guests. They are supposed to be the unmaking and the making of us. They are supposed to challenge us and change us. Having a houseful of kids is not supposed to be quiet. It is not supposed to be clean. Where no oxen are, the crib is clean. But much increase is by the strength of the ox. Where did we get these ideals? If we have the oxen, but the crib shows no sign of anything, then the oxen are clearly not out there getting much done, and the absence of mess means the fields aren’t getting plowed. Perhaps the oxen are paralyzed? Perhaps all the disinfecting that was going on in the barn caused them to faint?
My Dad is fond of saying that you want to pull, not push. Lead the way. Gallop off ahead of them in the kind of behavior that you want to see in them. You want them to value having a clean room? Then take pleasure in cleaning their rooms for them while they help, or talk to you, or whatever. When I clean the twins’ room, I start with them helping me. Sometimes they help the whole time, sometimes they get distracted, sometimes they just watch. But whatever they do, they share the joy of their tidy beds with me. Together we get their animal selection lined up on the pillows. They are following along behind me, learning to love it because I do. They value it because they watched me invest in it.
Of course I want my children to clean their rooms, make their beds, and pick up their toys cheerfully. And right now, when they are little, I help them with all of those things. I don’t want to invite sibling resentments by sending them off to do it alone. I don’t want to value the result more than all it cost us to get there. I don’t want the house and the housekeeping to be an affliction to my children. I want this to be their home, and my expression of love for them.
Now I know some of you are thinking “Holy smokes! What is behind this major lapse in judgment? It sounds like she is saying that obedience is not important, and that cleanliness is not a life skill!” Well, I’m not saying that. Not at all. But there can be obedience without any of the fruit of the spirit. If your child obeys quickly with dead eyes and a huffy shuffle, you have not helped them internalize it. They have no loyalty to your laws, no love for them. Where the fruit of the spirit is, there will be obedience and order. But obedience alone does not mean you have won your children.