The Strength of the Ox

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.

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31 thoughts on “The Strength of the Ox

  1. Thank you so very much for taking time to write this. I think it is just what I needed today. I have 4 little boys and so the energy level around here is…high :0) I’m always needing to remind myself what is worth correcting and what I don’t need to mention. I’ve also been trying to get much better at letting them work along with me in most things. This post painted a pretty picture for me to keep in mind :0)

  2. I’ve been reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Only on the eighth chapter, but his view of grace, obedience, and love fits in so well with this post. This is really refreshing. Thank you!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this! I have a baby and a toddler, and I’ve been really having to solidify in my mind what exactly my goal is with them (especially my toddler), lest I feel guilty for not being as strict in my training as others might think we should be. I would so much rather have children who learn obedience maybe a little slower than other kids, but who have a love for it, than children who are perfectly obedient by the time they’re 9 months old, but are always tense around me. Even though that means there’ll be more work for me, it’s a weight lifted off my shoulders being reminded that God hasn’t commanded everything of me that I sometimes command of myself.

  4. Yup. You’re a sharp one! I loved this post, especially, “But obedience alone does not mean you have won your children.”
    Keep up the good work!

  5. This is the best post ever on home cleaning–something that drives me crazy with five little ones. Thanks! I’m going to be thinking of pulling rather than pushing them.

  6. I agree with this wholeheartedly! But where I struggle is with homeschooling. How does one keep the standard high with schooling while teaching them to love learning and not losing your relationship with your child in the process?!! I am trying to follow a classical style (Veritas) and it is very difficult. When I lower my standard we all have a great day but I feel very stressed in the end about what we didn’t get done. I wish we had a classical christian school in the area but as we don’t, I’m not sure how to find a balance in this area.

  7. Thanks Rachel! Loved the white board illustration. Need to keep that checklist on the mind.

  8. @ Kcaarin

    Ahh! I understand your plight all too well. First, does your husband want you using the classical education model for homeschooling? Are you both sold on the idea? Has the Lord led you to this as a family? Have you read enough about this type of education to know the ramifications of it? If you can’t confidently answer these question, stop and re-assess (some of the finest homeschooling advice that we received early on was from a pastor friend who told us to figure out our educational philosopy before doing anything). If you answer in the affirmative, and there is no school available, and your husband is not led to begin one, then the Lord will give you the fortitude to persevere without being too severe. Here are a few things that He has sent our way to help us:
    * Only carry the weight of one year at a time
    * Do school for three weeks then take a week off to be Mom
    * Everyone has a personalized daily school routine
    * No one is slave to the schedule; we trudge on together

  9. Not sure how this was posted, as I wasn’t done…

    * And it is trudging
    * Seek and extend forgiveness for sharp words
    * If you are not loads of fun, depend on your husband’s sense of fun to lighten the load
    * Lizzie’s encouragement to lead is great. Work hard with the troops, then rest with them afterward
    * Clean up the mess at the end of the day together
    * Clean the house together at the end of week (thanks to Kelly Orr on that one!)
    * Truly rest on the Sabbath and forget about school
    * Field trips make for great fun (and a tired Mom)!
    * Cry out for wisdom as Solomon tells us to do
    * From Pastor Wilson: Be the kind of person you want your children to be
    * Pray for help!

  10. Not bothering mother during afternoon quiet time when she is on the internet?
    That is definitely in that list somewhere. I don’t know why you aren’t finding it. God had to have commanded it.

    Thanks for this. Very convicting and encouraging in one little essay. Keep up the good work.

  11. Excellent post Rachel. I humbly admit that when I was your age I did not have this kind of wisdom while parenting my oldest. I rejoice to see the Lord raising up young mothers like you with a proper understanding of children and the home. To God be the glory.

    Here are a couple of excellent posts from Pastor John Barach on a proper understanding of our children, their maturity level, the grace we extend etc.

  12. is there any way to private message you? I would love to receive your advice on something. My email is
    Thank you for your comment! I have been praying and praying for wisdom and patience. God is good. I am only able to accomplish either of these things with His help.

  13. Thank you so much for this post :). I love your writing! 🙂 I just finished, “Loving the Little Years” and it was such a blessing to me. 🙂

    @Kcaarin Pineau—I feel your pain :P. just wanted to mention something that has been a blessing to our family in the area of homeschooling (as i get very overwhelmed at all there is to juggle too). I plan on using a lot of Veritas Press’ stuff (been ordering books for years! and i LOVE their curriculum as well as the classical model :), but there is a guide/curriculum that really helps streamline homeschooling called Heart of Dakota…it has worked wonders for us! You can read about it on the Well Trained Mind forums by googling it…just wanted to mention it…here’s a post, but you can find more informative posts on the forum too 🙂

  14. Thank you for this post. It really seems to make practical application to the things that your parents have both been posting on this subject.
    One question: May ask about the approximate ages of the twins? You say “when they are little.” Are we talking 2, 4, 6? I am struggling woefully in this area with one of mine (5 years old). I guess I expect too much of her, because I do send her off to do it on her own and then have to discipline her repeatedly to keep her at it until completion. What could be completed in 10 minutes takes her an hour, and love, joy, peace, etc. is pretty absent in the whole experience.

    I understand where you are coming from. I am also using Veritas. It is grueling. I am going to make my school year longer (4 day school weeks) this next year to allow time for keeping up the home and being Mom. This is an alternate to the three weeks on and one week off. It will still be hard! Love your advice @’Lizbeth Anne!

  15. In God’s mysterious providence, I married into 4 boys ages 4-14 to raise, including twins. This verse about the ox was on my kitchen window sill for several of the early years of my marriage! Boys are a joy and strength to their mother. They are a messy, rowdy, loud joy and strength. They dig stumps to make garden beds, but track in a lot of mud doing so. I constantly had to remind my loves-a-shiny-clean-house heart that relationship is more important than cleanliness and peace and order doesn’t always equal quiet and clean. We all want our boys to be cheerful hard workers, we just forget that cheerfulness is often loud and hard work creates big messes at times.

    I so appreciate your eternal view on this matter. I’m afraid I too often read that verse just to get me through the crazy days. Looking back now I wish I had the perspective of modeling my joy in the standard so that they would joy in it. I’m pretty sure the words, “I hate doing this too, but we’re both going to do it!” came out of my mouth. How much better to joyfully model the fruits of the spirit to our children so that they want to do it. Children always want to do whatever mom is doing. Rather than ordering them off to do a chore, do it with them and make it a want-to rather than a have-to. Such simple but profound advice. It makes me go, “why didn’t I think of that!” Thank you for encouraging this in all of us.

  16. For Kccarin:
    Homeschooling is hard! Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t find it natural and easy. ? I find that some years I feel good about everything we’re doing and accomplishing and some years I felt like we just barely survived. I agree with the tips given already, here are a few things that helped me:

    • I always used a 4-day school week. That way we always had Friday for catching up, doing fun “school” stuff like outings or just catching up on the house and such. Friday was always “deep cleaning” day when we did most our big chores.

    • I now use a calendar based on the church year (see I love this schedule because it is 6 weeks on and 1 week off. It’s just the right amount for refreshing mom and kids regularly. It also fits perfectly with most unit studies or lesson plans. It’s nice to be able to revamp things every term if what we’re doing just isn’t working. It’s also great to have a week to do other projects, so I can be more focused when school is in session.

    • It’s okay that school is all you are about. This is a season. Homeschooling is a vocation. It’s easy to think we’re supposed to just tack homeschooling onto everything we already were doing as mom. In actuality, homeschooling has to replace much of what other things we would be doing if we are going to give our children an excellent education. It’s okay if you don’t have time to sew, garden, read tons of literature, take up photography, run a home business or whatever else you would be doing as a fruitful homemaker. For the season of life in which you are directing your children’s education, that one thing will be your focus. Don’t try and do it all.

    • This whole loving the standard idea applies greatly to our homeschooling. If you and the kids are drowning in your educational model, scale it back. Better to do a few subject really well and have kids that love education than to do all of classical education poorly and have bitter, resentful graduates. I go to a classical teacher’s conference about every other summer at a ACCS school near me. One of the great things I heard one year was that what we are now calling classical education encompasses a great deal more than what practicing classical education looked like back when it was more commonly used in the school systems a hundred years ago. This speaker suggested that we are not going to get all the job of creating a filled out classical education done in one generation. If you just can’t do all of whatever you define as a classical education, that’s okay! Lots of people don’t. Do the pieces you can do well with joy.

    I’ll just stop there because this is getting ridiculously long. I hope you will find others to talk to and don’t lose heart!

  17. I have been loving all these posts on child rearing lately, but since I’m a mom of little kids right now, this one especially resonated with me. I really, really love the point you brought out about the oxen proverb. I whole-heartedly “yes!!!!” that (not to mention am totally convicted by it). I feel like I have talked to many Christian parents that seem to mark “success” by how clean the house is, how ordered the kids are, etc. And it’s hard not to be influenced by that. I mean, on the surface, yes.. that looks very much like success. And I’m young still. I don’t see these things come out in the wash often enough yet. I don’t see the rebellious, resentful behavior that can come out of a household like that.

    I am so grateful for the wisdom that has come out of the Wilson family on this subject. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing!

  18. I love this group of posts that you all are doing, and think you’ve hit on something so important!

    One thing that I’ve realized in raising boys is that even well-disciplined ones will often try to get away with doing the most minimal work possible, and occasional “Reigns of Terror” are necessary to get them back in line.

    I wonder if children begin to resent your rules when you are a drill sergeant the majority of the time, instead of pouring on grace the majority of the time (and only occasionally morph into a boot camp). It seems like that is how God dealt with His people–overwhelmed them with grace and blessings, but sent plagues when He received whining and complaining in response!

  19. YOU ARE THE BOMB. I love this. I’m so convicted and excited. That’s my favorite part of the Wilsons, getting shredded and encouraged all at once.

  20. Just read the comments. Classical homeschooling is harrrrrrrrrrrd. There’s no way around it. Our oldest is headed into 4th grade this year and we are now going to drive thirty minutes each way to the closest ACCS school…at least for this coming year. I thought it was hilarious at their open house to learn that most classical homeschooling families show up at their school in third grade, burned out and looking for relief.

  21. Wow. So so so so good. I have been thinking about this post since yesterday and came back to read it again. What wisdom you all have!!

  22. Any advice regarding a child who strongly resists even the fences? I’m sure that things begin to feel oppressive because there is such a consistent will to resist and therefore frequent correction is required.
    This is a great post and very helpful!

  23. Thank you both for this series on teaching children to love the standard. I felt encouraged and inspired, though with a huge dose of guilt, as my first-born is three. Thanks for this special post for moms with young children. =)
    I am grateful to all the ladies who commented as well. Sometimes our days can be so isolating. Grateful for this little window on my desk where I stick out my neck and have occasional conversations and eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. =)

  24. I ordered your book “Loving the little years”. I received it today and read it almost in one evening! Thank you very much for that encouragement (thank to internet, so I can read your blog as well, I am from Switzerland). May God richly bless you for all your work you’ve done.

  25. I would really appreciate a description of a cleaning day in a Christian home with two or more children age 3 and under. It is so good to be reminded of the eternal souls we are dealing with and that we need to show our the fruit of the Spirit. But how does a mom get the house clean?? I know it may not stay clean and I’ve got to be prepared to cheerfully keep wiping hands and floors and windows and walls, but that once off deep clean eludes me, or I get it done and we’re all grumpy all of cleaning day.

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