My husband and I have three pretty wonderful children. Currently, their ages are 15, 13 and 11. They are helpful, fun, intelligent and interesting people. I have enjoyed watching their senses of humor develop as they’ve gotten older. We love to laugh together.
Having said all of that, I’ve been frustrated this summer with their lack of tuning in to what I am saying. They seem to hear only snippets of the instructions I am giving them. They tend to fulfill only a portion of their responsibilities, leaving jobs incomplete or totally undone. This is so frustrating to me! When my kids were preschoolers, I heard a woman interviewed on a family program who said that God wants us to obey right away, all the way and with a joyful heart. And, since parents are an extension of God to their children, we are to train our kiddos to do the same with us. Since we have their best interests and well-being at heart, our children need to learn to trust us for guidance as we should trust God. Beautiful parallel, in my opinion.
Anyway, that hasn’t been happening with a couple of mine lately. While one of them seems to be self-correcting, the other two are struggling to make good choices. I find myself repeating the most basic instructions and expectations repeatedly.
Don’t leave your wet towel on the floor.
Brush your teeth.
Put a lid on the leftovers before putting them in the fridge.
Don’t hit your sister.
Throw away your trash.
Or, worse, I find myself asking ridiculous questions that have no good answer.
Why didn’t you clean up that milk when you spilled it?
What made you think it’s okay for you to leave your dirty, sweaty, stinky clothes on the floor?
Why in the world would you leave your socks on the breezeway?
Did you really think it was acceptable to put a manure-covered bucket in the van?
What’s with the cruddy attitude, young lady?
Nag, nag, nag.
For whatever reason, I think that there should be reasonable explanations for obviously defiant (and/or ridiculous) behavior. I try to understand. I try to be patient. Instead of giving second chances, I give thirteen chances.
Here’s the deal: Kids are people. People are flawed. We’re gonna make mistakes. That’s the way it is. However, we are also pretty smart. Given adequate incentive, we can learn to make fewer mistakes. This is my job as the momma: Motivate my children to make wise choices that honor God and prepare them for the real world.
I cannot be too busy.
I cannot parent in distraction.
I must put aside what seems urgent for the sake of what is most important.
I must be where my kids need me to be.
My friend, Jody, referred to this as a parental “time in”. I’m sure she heard that little expression somewhere; her life’s work is children, and she has a passion for helping kids live healthier, more fulfilling lives. Anyway, I like that expression. To be honest, there really shouldn’t be time outs in parenting. We are either all in…or we are not. We can take little breaks from time to time–and we should!–but never at the cost of our children. When they need us, we must not let them down.
I’ve learned that when my children’s behavior is at its worst, that’s when they need me the most.
So, yesterday, I plugged in very specifically to my two needy kiddos. We worked side by side in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning and organizing. When I gave instructions, I watched for thorough follow-through. When there was confusion, I offered clarification. When good effort was put forth or a job was well done, I gave praise. For forty-five minutes, I tuned out my never-ending To Do List and and “timed in” to my responsibilities as a parent. When attitudes were positive and obedience was restored, we finished up what we were doing and watched a rainy-afternoon movie. The rest of the day went much more smoothly.
I wanted to blame my kids for the circumstances of the past few weeks. It’s true that they could have chosen differently than they had been choosing. But, they hadn’t. They were allowed to fall into a rut of snarky attitudes and disobedience. As their momma, it is my responsibility to motivate them to make wise choices that honor God and prepare them for the real world. I cannot do that by tuning them out. It was time for a parental time in.