Picky Chickens

Several years ago I was driving through Pennsylvania with some friends and we stopped near the most gorgeous old farmhouse. Inside its large and fabulous yard there were a bunch of hilarious chickens running around. They must have been a variety of heirloom breeds – the colors and hairdos and feather leg warmers were just a little too outrageous for normal chickens if you know what I mean! Anyway, we walked over to see them and they ran to us (presumably thinking we would offer them more than praise). But as soon as they got close, they were no longer the cute stuff. All of them had bald and bleeding spots where they had been picking one another’s feathers out, the nasty little things.

These chickens came to my mind suddenly one day while I was trying to explain to my little girls why they may not fuss and bicker at each other, and it has since become its own offense in our home – being “picky chickens.”My girls are of such an age that they get  a big kick out of apologizing and returning feathers to each other. They actually have to say something like “I love you because you are a sweet sister – I’m sorry I was picking at your feathers – here you go” and they exchange and return feathers and compliments. It has been our most successful picture of infighting, and a great tool for seeing themselves in their actions. I mean, honestly, who really likes the idea of being a mean chicken?

One of the funny things about having children is that you constantly convict yourself by teaching them. If you are addressing their problems honestly, and if you double check yourself, you will almost always find a little something to think about.  Have you ever been frustrated by something your kids did? For me it is usually something I was not expecting – when the disobedience falls suddenly outside the normal range. Like filling up the bathroom sink with toothpaste and soap and shampoo.  The need to correct is real, but so is the desire to pick a feather out while you are at it. Do you really want to be the fastest, biggest, pickiest, meanest chicken in the barnyard?

So think about your language with your children. When they disobey do you talk about your own hurt? Are you pointing to all the work that you have to do now that they screwed up? Do you want to elaborate at all on how bad, bad, bad that particular thing was? Do you want to see them feel bad, or see them with a clear conscience so you can have a little snuggle tickle-fest?

I think we can all picture the kind of mother that sets a beautiful dinner on the table, and then brings down all the people gathered around it with her nasty comments. Now try  thinking  of discipline as a different kind of nourishment – a sweet means of grace to your children. Bring that to the table with a smile and a wink – a means of building up little people, not a means of bringing them down. Make a point of telling them all about how you love them – with a lot of good solid points. Leave that table refreshed in your love for one another, and happy.

Of course life is real and life is earnest, and sometimes you just don’t have time for a big chat over discipline because you are pretty sure you can hear someone playing with the microwave. But it doesn’t take long to fluff feathers – you can do it on the go. One of the favorite techniques in our house is to periodically startle the kids by yelling “uh-oh!” and when they all look at you with concern you yell “I love you!” – it is funny every single time, and the kids know you wouldn’t act that stupid if you didn’t love them.

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21 thoughts on “Picky Chickens

  1. Good thoughts. It is hard to keep perspective on my curious toddler’s escapades when the baby was almost asleep, or is asleep and I’m trying to get dinner ready…or…or. The latest talent he has discovered is knocking over the guard gates. Just as his sister gets crawling down pat. Oh my!

    “and the kids know you wouldn’t act that stupid if you didn’t love them.”
    LOL! So true…

  2. My mother has a framed picture of a small child and a large bird, dressed as a woman. At the bottom it reads “Mom can be a real bird sometimes.” How true! When we should be like Jesus, wanting to gather in our chickens under our wings, we are busy pecking and going broody…running around like chickens with our heads cut off. Ok, so that would be me even if no one else admits it. Thank you for this illustration. With all the chickens clucking around our farm, this ought to be a fabulous hit in our family.

  3. Thank you, I needed this so much! Along side listening to your husbands sermon on being discontent, it has made for the perfect amount of spiritual correction that I so needed today 🙂

  4. I agree!!
    That was a great article. I often get a bit harsh with words when disciplining…but sometimes there is still a need to let them know that what they did was not good, or hurt others. HOW do we do this kindly? One of mine is telling constant fibs, how do I discipline without hurting? Id love to hear your comments on this:)

  5. Thank you. Having a house-full of little ones, I really appreciate your wisdom. You inspire me to live out the Gospel…

  6. I think I’ve been plucking some feathers off my sweet little 5 year old. Yikes! So convicted!! Think I’ll go give her some hugs and kisses just because…. thanks Rachel!

  7. Debz-
    Of course you are right that there is a business end to correction and it is not all fun and games. However, I find that my own children respond far better to cheerful and friendly correction – in other words, they go away with a lesson, but not feeling beat up. I also find that they continue to respond better over time – as in, even if they are repeatedly offending in the same category (lying), I have to remember that if they were forgiven the last time, we are starting fresh this time. In other words, I may not begin to get harsh with them just because we already covered the same issue earlier.

  8. Oh, this is SO good! I especially appreciate the additional advice in your comment. I so badly want to reflect God’s character to my children. How better to do this than to “start fresh” every time? May the Lord help me keep his patience and overwhelming forgiveness in mind as I care for my sweet little kiddos!

  9. thankyou very much for your wonderful advice and speedy reply. Im sure Ill get a chance soon enough to put this into practice:)Ive been beating my self up terribly about my parenting recently. So nice that I came across your site. I shall be a frequent visitor. Last night my teacher husband was invited to a previous student’s 21st birthday party. During the party the reality hit me that my precious wee girls are going to be home for such a short time, and in no time at all I will be farewelling them into the big world on their own. I so want to create precious, happy memories for them, and to invest God’s truth and love in their lives. I guess Ive been reminded to treasure every day with them, and value them for who they are instead of getting at them for what they are not.

  10. You have quite a way of putting things. I grew up with a picky chicken mother who sometimes seemed to take great delight (yes really) in plucking out my feathers. Once I had a specially nice blue feather that my mom was very proud of, but she ended up plucking that one out as well. Then she wondered why I couldn’t fly very well. Them darn feathers are still growing back in. Thank you so much for the metaphor. I’m going to start applying it to my behavior now.

  11. Rachel, thank you so much for the encouragement and wisdom. Thank you also to all who commented too! I often need to hear that other struggle with the same issues. I hear my daughter pick her brothers feathers once in a while and I think “Wow, that sounds like me.” I have also noticed that every time I ask the Lord for help in this area I can actually see things get better. My patience doubles and my corrections become sweet and profitable.

  12. I completely love this post, both because I have three children under four years old and sometimes feel I spend all day correcting them… And also because we have two backyard hens and one is pecking the other near to death. (We actually just had to relocate her a bit to let her heal.)
    I posted recently on finding ways to intentionally enjoy the days to ensure that exasperation linked to correction didn’t eat up all our perspective as mothers… see http://heartpondering.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/exasperation-and-15-minutes/
    But I really like the idea here of awareness of the correction/love balance in each iteration of disciplining a child. How badly we need this check on ourselves. The hen-pecking image fits perfectly.

  13. I love this verse and it seems to apply to this post quite well: “Let my teaching drop as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, As the droplets on the fresh grass and as the showers on the herb.” Deuteronomy 32:2

  14. This was exactly what I needed to read today. I was a bit rough with my words this morning. Thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to the boys waking up from their naps to love them much more!

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