So, in thinking of how to respond to a couple of the comments on my last post about the crazy- town activities at our house, I realized that there is a lot to say. It is not that I have this material mastered by any stretch of the imagination, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about it! It is actually something that I work on every day, so I may as well just share some things that have been helpful to our family as we navigate these busy years.
If you are just joining us, I have four little dinks, and our oldest and wisest will be five in the late fall. So no, I do not magically coast through the days with tender smile on my face bringing cookies on doilies to the children who are wearing tastefully chosen ensembles, and sitting on a monogrammed picnic blanket. You are more likely to find me calling a meeting to discuss the use of the shower curtain as a hand towel ( a meeting conducted while trying to chip up Cheerios that have dried on the floor under the table), or trying to explain why I put an end to pulling each other around at breakneck speeds on a tablecloth tied to a jump rope.
Life is not smooth or scenic a lot of the time, but it is happy and funny, and full of things I never expected but couldn’t live without. Probably the most helpful things that I concentrate on are perspective adjustments. When there is a behavioral problem, a disobedience issue, or a particularly difficult or tiring stretch with my children, I know it is time for a perspective adjustment. Time to sit down, think about what is going on, look at my initial reaction to it honestly, and then turn that reaction Â on its head. So far, I haven’t found a situation where this did not clean everything up quickly. Here are a few examples, based on my own real-life encounters with young children!Daphne was still two, and Titus woke up with a dirty diaper. I went in to change him stealthily while Chloe still slept. Â I was still clinging to the hope of longer naps when Daphne appeared in the door. I shook my head at her, and whispered “no”, “stay out!” My meaning was not unclear, and she was looking right at me. Then, she looked at Titus, danced into the room loudly singing “Hey Titus- man! Look at you big guy! I love you Titus-man!” Needless to say, Chloe’s head popped right up, and naps were over. Now, my initial reaction to this was definitely annoyance, and thinking about how badly we needed to crack down on a child that would blatantly ignore me and disobey. But, as I thought about what had actually gone on, I realized that I had done exactly what she did. I knew God told me to be patient and I heard Him clearly – there was no doubt about it. Then I thought “He’ll understand if I lose it because He’ll see why I did.” Daphne thought, “Mom doesn’t want me to come in, but she won’t mind as soon as she sees why. I am just going to go be sweet to Titus.” So there we were, both of us disobeying Â to the exact same extent.
All I needed right then was to see that she was not the big “S” sinner, while I was the still- godly but annoyed mother. We were together in our mis-step. I don’t know if she knew I was irritated with her, but I apologized, and then talked to her about listening to Mama right away. The truth is, it wasn’t a big thing, it just felt like it was because it was messing with the naps. It would have been unkind and unreasonable for me to bring out the law on her, while tenderly dealing with myself.
Example two is more of a regular occurrence over here. It seems like we just find a routine and things are fairly manageable. I am feeling pretty good about the laundry, about the discipline, and about the whole situation. Then it seems like we wake up one morning and nothing works anymore. The babies are not interested in their toys, the big girls are listless, bored, and Â usually demanding a lot more of something, like talking, or concentrated play, or they are just begging me for something “special” to do. Usually a project.I don’t know what they are talking about – being caught up on the laundry is special!
This is a feeling that almost always accompanies some kind of change. Someone giving up the need for a nap, someone learning to run, someone finding out they can climb up onto the table, the big girls discovering they can tie things together, or what have you. Anyway, this can be very frustrating. Kids alternately bouncing off the wall and fussing with each other, or getting into things you don’t want them doing, demanding something of you that you were not prepared to give.
Whenever this happens, this ambiguous restlessness in the house, I try to think of it as a growth spurt. It is like all my children have a growth spurt at the same time and develop new needs. This is only a problem when Mom doesn’t have a growth spurt herself. Even more of a problem when Mom refuses to have one, and demands that everyone else get back into clothes that are too tight.
This is another example of a time when the children’s attitudes are tethered to mine. If I pray for a growth spurt, for ideas on how to help them, to make this a fun new phase, and to appreciate their new needs, then the change on my part usually clears up a lot of things! I am not saying that this eliminates the need for discipline, but it makes it gloriously clear cut and sweet. My attitude is no longer a player, and it is no longer a big “situation” but just normal life. Â You know those pain scales at the hospital (you know what I mean – they rate your pain from 1 to 10)? Well, pretend that you are screaming “13, 13! 15!” What that should tell you is that it is time to re-start the whole thing, stop screaming, and just accept the fact that this is now the new 1. Start over, and accept the new “normal.” I promise, that mental change will actually change how you feel.
My husband has emphasized something with our children that has been a huge blessing to all of us. That something is fellowship. As we have worked with them to sit through the service in church, this has been his theme song. Â We stay in fellowship, and that is all. Basically, if one of the kids is disobeying, they are disciplined for breaking fellowship, and we make sure that we are back in it. This has had a far greater impact on everything than I would have expected. We discipline to get into fellowship. This means that we do a lot more discipline for attitudes than for “busy-ness.”Â This also means that we have to keep our own attitudes spot on. We will not discipline a child if we are annoyed, irritated, or just fed up.
This doesn’t mean they don’t get disciplined, it just means that we do too, and we get it first. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” Â While this seems painfully basic, it makes a big difference. I try to remember that my relationship to my children will, Lord willing, be one of friendship far longer than it is one of authority. This is a short phase – this phase where we wield the rod. Most of their lives we should be friends. As time goes by, and my authority is removed out of areas of their lives (what they wear, what they watch, how they deal with each other), I want a firm foundation of friendship to be in place. My authority over them should not be the basis of our relationship – because if it is, letting go of myÂ authority would be letting go of them. But if the basis of our relationship is friendship, then releasing my authority in areas will release our relationship to friendship in that area.
I certainly hope that when my daughters are free to dress themselves, that will lead to lots of fun shopping trips, and far more fellowship over clothing than we have now. I clearly remember my Dad telling us that we were allowed to watch whatever movies we wanted to. I think if anything, that started the discussions with him about everything we watched – in painstaking detail, looking for feedback from him. He had already established a relationship of friendship (and trusted counselor) with us, and releasing his authority just enhanced that. So strive to befriend your children. Enter into their little needs and struggles, and don’t always zoom in with a paddle, or if you do, make sure that you are the first in line.
If God is (and He is) willing to enter into our struggles, and carry them for us, then we need to imitate that kindness to our children. He doesn’t get frustrated with us for tracking our dirt into His house, so how much more should we show kindness when our children just dumped out all the legos, even if it was into the bathtub?