Lately the Lord has really been highlighting this verse to me every time I'm thinking about parenting. "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6
One of my roles as the mother of my three boys is to be their teacher. Their trainer. I should not limit my role to their corrector, their critique, their rule enforcer... I need to initiate interactions in which I am teaching them the correct ways to behave. Before they even enter a situation I can train them how to act and let them know what will be expected of them instead of just letting them fly by the seat of their pants into unknown waters and then scolding them if they get it wrong. Just like I wrote about communicating our expectations to our spouses the other day, it is important to communicate our expectations to our children as well. This sets them up for success instead of failure.
My most recent example of this was this past Friday morning. I posted on facebook that I took all three of my little men into one of my favorite antique shops in Strasburg that morning. A bold and risky move. I admit I was nervous, the shop is full of breakable items and I absolutely want to teach my children respect for their surroundings. (And I didn't want to be paying money for broken items I wasn't planning on buying). But I have a project I am anxious to get to work on, I needed to get something to begin working on it, and I don't want to assume my kids can't handle this type of thing and be forced to get a babysitter anytime I want to go out in public. So this is what we did. I started the night before by telling them that the next morning we were going to go to one of mommy's favorite shops, and that they were going to get to go with me!! I really played up the excitement of this privilege. When we woke up the next morning I reminded them where we were going, and then told them that not very many kids get to go to this shop, but because I trust them not to touch anything they were going to get to go. They were feeling more and more proud of themselves. The whole drive there we went over two rules. Number 1: Hold mommy's hands while walking down the sidewalk into the shop. (It's by a main road) Number 2: Don't touch anything once we're inside. I had them repeat the rules to me. To each other. I told them how excited I was to take them to my favorite store. By the time we got there they had it down. I strapped Jaden into the bjorn on front of me, took Drew on one side, Isaiah on the other, and they held my hands on the way in. Once we were inside I took a deep breath and let go of their hands and let them follow me through the store. They did amazing. It was adorable seeing their boyish excitement constrained to excited whispers, pointing to things they liked as close as they could without actually touching, and doing their best to follow my guidelines. I got what I needed, we circled once through the shop, checked out, and to reward their awesome behavior we went to get ice cream.
There was another mother in the shop with me that morning. She was there with her one son who looked like he was about 6, a good bit older than Drew, and she was there with her mom as well. Her son seemed like a good kid. He wasn't being loud, he wasn't be disrespectful, he wasn't looking defiant or rebellious. But the mother's stress levels were through the roof. She seemed positive he was going to break something. She acted like she couldn't possibly enjoy herself unless her mom kept both eyes on her son like a hawk at all times while she browsed. She was tense, she kept reprimanding him, and I'm pretty sure not one of the three of them was having a very good time. I've been there. In a situation in which I feel totally out of control, in over my head, and like I need to just call it quits and get out asap. (I'm pretty sure our kids feed off our stress levels and it only makes it worse though.) And sometimes falling back and regrouping is an excellent strategy in parenthood. It's just not what I want my primary/only strategy to be.
There is another mom who I really respect and look up to. She has two sons who are about 10 years or more ahead of where my boys are. I asked her what her secrets were once. She told me it wasn't a secret, it was just practicing situations with them. She said if they weren't doing well sharing that she would sit down with them and they would practice sharing. She would literally pick up a toy and share it with one of them, then ask who they were going to share it with, then ask that son who he was going to share it with, and they would go around and around. She said if they weren't behaving well at the grocery store then they would pretend they were grocery shopping at home and they would practice the correct behavior over and over. She literally was training them how to behave. Brilliance, I tell you. Brilliance.
Sometimes it's hard to feel like you have the time to "train up a child..." There are many times I'm trying to get dinner on the table, or clean up the kitchen, or prepare to go somewhere and fights are breaking out and I just feel incapable. That's where I feel like I need to start prioritizing (and literally speaking life into our home and situation. You can always speak, no matter how full your hands are. And we have the power of life and death in our tongues.) What's most important to me? A clean kitchen? Or a child who understands what it means to be respectful? This is not to put all kinds of pressure on parents to produce perfect children. Our children have a will, a personality, a choice too. Some are harder than others. There are going to be situations that come up that we were unable to prepare them for. But if we can do our best to lead them to a place where they are set up to make good choices, to a place where they eventually have a relationship with the Lord and have been taught how to hear His voice, then we can let go and feel a peace about it.
If this sounds like craziness to you, please know I am not suggesting you take all of your children to a store with the most breakable items in it and see if you can get through alive. I don't even know that I want to risk it again even after a good experience. Start small. Communicate your expectations of how you'd like them to behave at the park and go to a kid friendly place for the first try. If they mess up don't throw your hands in the air and give up, try getting down on their level, talking gently and correcting their behavior. Maybe let them try again. When they get it right reward them. Maybe it's not with ice cream, maybe it's with encouragement, praise, etc. Maybe you just start in your home, setting aside a little time each day to practice good behaviors with them. Model by example.
The Hebrew word used for "train" in that verse means "initiate" or "consecrate." We are to intentionally raise our children this way, and initiate these interactions with them. And consecrate basically means we are to set them apart for the Lord, and that this role of raising children is one of the highest callings we have.
With Drew I often take him aside from things that are small mishaps that cause him a LOT of tears and remind him that he can choose joy anyway. With Isaiah I try to remind him to communicate what he is feeling instead of just screaming. Showing them over and over that they have a choice in the way they respond to things. I want to teach them to be as responsible for their reactions as they are for their actions.
I have noticed that children have a natural tendency to want to do whatever they see us doing. If we're washing the car they want to help. Cooking? They want to help. Gardening? They want to help. Painting? They want their own paint brush. Paying bills? They want a pen and paper too. Washing dishes? They want to pull up a chair and splash in the water. They are designed and created to watch us and try to imitate us when they are little. It's easier and faster to shoo them off and finish our task alone. But letting them "help" and teaching them how to do things is how they learn. I can't send Drew out to the garden with a shovel and tell him to weed and expect him to know what plants are weeds and what are vegetables if I've never shown him. But if I get down in the dirt with him and we do it side by side he will learn. And eventually he will be able to weed on his own. It's a process and it's tough but it's so rewarding. For both of us.
None of this is a formula for raising your babies. The most important thing you can do for your kids is ask the Lord for His input along the way, and then listen for His voice. He knows our kids way better than we do and He has the wisdom we so desperately need when shepherding their precious little souls. (One example of this would be when Drew was going through a phase when he was two where he would hit me when he wasn't getting his way and I asked God what to do. I heard Him tell me to turn the other cheek. Literally. So the next time Drew went into a hitting fit I looked into his eyes and told him to look me in the eyes and hit me again. He couldn't hit me if he was looking at me and seeing who he was hurting. This broke the hitting phase. I don't think telling your child to hit you again is the answer for everyone, but it was the answer for me and Drew, and God knew it.) What I am suggesting here is that we are to be intentional teachers for our children, and to do our best to prepare them for what is coming so that they know what is expected and are set up to succeed in life.