I was about to walk out my front door, a free woman. My husband had offered to watch the two little ones to give me an hour alone, to be spent with a book, my Bible, my journal, and hopefully a good cup of coffee. But just as I was about to shut the door, my daughter came rushing out. “Where are you going, Mama? Can I come, too?” “Sorry,” I responded, “but you get to have some special play time with Papa while Mama gets a little alone time. Isn’t that great!” With huge tears pouring down her face she wailed, “but why can’t we do alone time as a family?”
Last week, Susan wrote a great post on what to do when you said “I Do” to someone very different than you. It got my wheels turning thinking about not just my husband, but my kids -- who, as you can see above, are made very differently than I am. Between my daughter and I, one of us needs quiet time, processes internally, and needs one or two close friends. The other needs fun, adventure time, processes verbally, and sees any living, breathing person as a potential best friend (I’ll let you guess which one of us is which!). Unique!
At times I am great at appreciating my daughter’s differences – I admire the way, even at a young age, she is willing to get up on stage and perform. I’m amazed at her heart for people, her willingness to always welcome someone as a friend. She’s generous, always willing to give. These are things I have to work at, yet they come so naturally to her -- something I just adore about how God has made her.
And yet so often in parenting I find myself getting easily frustrated by the fact that she works differently than I do. I was confronted with this thought: At the end of a long day of parenting, have the majority of my frustrations been because of serious heart problems I’ve dealt with in my kids, or just my irritation because they don’t do things like I want them to, or react as I would react? Perhaps even more telling is this question: Have I just been frustrated because I don’t feel I’ve been getting the space, time, or whatever else I need?
Of course there is always validity to our kids obeying and responding to what we ask of them, but am I burdening my kids with expectations to 'fit into my mold' that are beyond what God asks of them? Am I exasperating my kids rather than encouraging and loving them?
In light of this, here are a few truths wise parents have passed on to me I’m keeping in mind as I parent my “littles” these days:
God made our kids! This might feel like a “duh” statement, but He made them uniquely, knowing how they would fit into our family culture, knowing how they would be gifted, knowing how they would struggle. It’s not a surprise to their Creator that they are unique -- He intended them to be that way!
Kids are people too! I know you are now starting to doubt if I’m actually going to say anything of value in this article, but I think we actually overlook this truth sometimes. Kids are people from the very moment they are born, and, as we’ve said, unique people. Kids don’t get a soul later in life. They don’t just survive for the first 12 years and then start to really develop later.
Their little hearts are prone to certain sins and weaknesses, their little souls gifted and blessed in particular areas from the beginning. Am I going out of my way to identify and encourage those gifts? Am I praying for and lovingly disciplining their areas of weakness?
Kids respond best to love that is specific to their heart needs. A friend recently took her children out on individual little dates. They were nothing spectacular, just an outing with them and mom, doing something that each child particularly liked to do (Getting a treat! Going shopping! Sitting in a music store playing the piano!). She said that her kids could not stop talking about their date with mom. That such a simple act connected them in a beautiful way was a surprise to her, but helped her better understand how to love her kids.
My husband and I have had weeks where it feels like all we are doing is disciplining our daughter for her bad behaviour. So often, taking time out to connect with her on her level will change her rebellious attitude to a more receptive and obedient one. So, have I paid attention and found the ways in which my kids feel filled up, encouraged, blessed? Instead of just loving them the way I feel most loved, have I taken time to figure out what their heart needs and to minister to them specifically?
We should care most deeply about the state of our child’s heart, not their conformity to our personality. My daughter loves to talk, all the time. I’ll be honest, this can drive me a little crazy. But is talking too much a sin? Nope. Not by a long shot. So often I need to die to myself and just listen, truly listen, to her heart poured out in words – what a privilege!
At the same time, what an opportunity to teach her about her need to stop talking and listen to others, about her ability to love people well by speaking words that encourage and build others up, about her ability to use her words to tell people about her Saviour. Appreciating her uniqueness in this area means I don’t make her stop talking, but seek to teach her how to use her talking as a beautiful tool.
Parenting is a surprising journey, certainly one more difficult, complicated, rich, and rewarding than was ever anticipated. Loving our kids in the unique way God made them is often challenging, especially when they are so different than us! But I’ve come to take a lot of comfort from the fact that, just like in my heart, God is at work in their hearts, moulding and shaping them and drawing them to himself. He’s sanctifying them, and using us to do it. And you know what? I’m pretty sure he’s using them to sanctify us, too!
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