Confession: I sometimes think I’m wrecking my kids. I’m sure you can’t relate, but I have moments where I observe my boys (ages three and five) at each other’s throats, and wonder how in the world I will ever teach them to manage their emotions or learn to put others’ needs before their own.
Because haven’t we already been working on this for years???
It’s usually on those days that I’m employing the whisper-so-I-don’t-yell technique and gritting my teeth so much I cause my own headache while trying to fake patience and conjure up empathy so I don’t rip off my own fingernails and throw myself out the window. (I’m sounding like a dream of a mother here. It’s not pretty, but this is how I sometimes feel.)
Since my boys are only a year-and-a-half apart, they’re the best of friends but also each other’s biggest adversary and source of competition.
Last week they were having one of Those Days—the ones where they’re constantly battling over some toy, some measure of personal space, some whatever. They were in fine form with kicking and snatching and yelling and squinty eyes being thrown back and forth like machetes, and then all of a sudden Levi (my five-year-old) announced that God told him that “he needs some time to think.”
Eyebrows raised and jaw at my knees, I followed him with my eyes as he walked across the room and outside in search of a few minutes’ solitude in the yard.
I found Ryan to tell him what just happened, still stunned that Levi stopped mid-karate chop and instead walked away to think. I was even more stunned that he was chalking the whole thing up to being God’s idea.
“Levi, what did God tell you to do?” Ryan found him, wanting to know more.
“He just told me that I’ve been fighting and fighting and fighting all morning and I needed to have some space to think about it and see how I could change my heart. I just have to stop the fighting.”
“How did God speak to you?” Ryan prodded a little more.
“He just spoke to my heart,” Levi shrugged, matter-of-factly.
I kid you not, a few moments later Levi came back inside and started to play with Judah as if his entire day had been reset. He was generous, patient, and his demeanor had completely changed. It was as if God was actually with him and I’m not sure why this was so surprising to us, but it was. We know the power of God to help us in times like this personally, but it felt almost other-worldly to experience it coming from the mouth and heart of our baby.
Taking a step back
I wish I could claim this little story as a parenting win, but I realize that if we take full credit for all the cool things our kids do then we probably need to also take full credit for the rotten things they do too. But really, I see this little story as an illustration of how God can move in a child if we make room for it and I want more of that.
My tendency as a parent is to want to intervene when I see things going south. I want to protect my kids from one another. I want to mediate. I want to force “good” communication and “loving” behavior.
But lately I’ve been really challenged to step back and let them take more ownership in solving their own relational problems. It doesn’t mean I’ll never intervene. And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m unapproachable if they genuinely need help. But it does mean that I’m trusting them more to work things out on their own and I’m trusting God more to move their hearts toward choosing what is wise and right for themselves.
The faith of a child and the kindness of God
What I saw happen with Levi in this case was an amazing example of the kindness of God to lead Levi to repentance, and the faith of a child to simply hear God and obey. A regular part of our bedtime prayers with the boys includes asking God to help them learn to hear his voice (and then having discussions about what that means). Usually, I leave wondering if I’ve confused them or if I’m teaching them “correctly.” It’s such a joy to realize we’re beginning to see the fruit of those times together and that as we do our best God is faithful to fill in the gap.
Maybe this isn’t exactly a parenting win, but it’s definitely a God win. He’s teaching and discipling and parenting my children even as Ryan and I do our best to teach, disciple, and parent them. Where we fall short, God intervenes. It’s easy to think that the future of my children’s success as human beings will rise and fall on how stellar my parenting practices are or how wisely I teach them or how diligently I model Kingdom values for them or how adeptly I apply child psychology to the way we relate to them. And all of those things matter. I’ll always try to be the best parent I possibly can, but I find comfort knowing that when my children are trying to rip each others’ hair out or smash a tiny fist into someone’s esophagus it’s not the whole story.
Beneath the angst and challenge of growing out of babyhood and into childhood is an evolving ability to grow in their capacity to not only gain composure, but to access the grace of God for doing so. It’s a humbling and inspiring thing to watch and I just have to take a step back, thank God, and continue to help give my children language to describe what they’re learning.
Isn’t is amazing—seeing our kids learn and teach us?