In this insightful conversation between Rachel Jankovic (author of Fit to Burst) and her father, Douglas Wilson, Rachel explains where she wants her children to “grow up as cookie eaters instead of in the house with a cookie maker.”
Good stuff here about how to avoid falling into the ditch of resenting excellence in the home or the other ditch of pursuing excellence in the home for your own glory:
“Making cookies I’m all in favor of, but if you are making them about yourself and then trying to force them down everybody else’s throats “because I’m so good at this,” it doesn’t feed your children. But if you are making them because you want your children to be the kind of people who grew up eating cookies [and because] I want my children to have lived in a home that is ordered and pleasant to be in…if you are doing it that direction, I think it will feed your children.”
In the six minutes it takes for you to bake a batch of cookies you can watch this helpful video. Worth your time.
My husband, Mike, is a gift that I don’t deserve. My kids have yet to fully grasp what an incredible dad they’ve been given. For one, they would never be clean if it wasn’t for him. True confessions: I really hate giving my kids baths. There, I said it. For some strange reason I prefer a clean bathroom and dirty children. But thankfully, the kids have Mike and whenever Dad is on duty, the kids get clean.
This is one of many ways that Mike and I are different. And when it comes to clean children, I appreciate those differences. Other times, not so much: particularly when those differences mean that Mike doesn’t help out in the way that I want him to with the kids.
For example, if Mike doesn’t seem to notice that I need help with the kids, or doesn’t help in the way I think he should, I can be tempted to judge his motives and assume he doesn’t care. I expect him to observe and understand the need that I have without my asking for help. But Mike doesn’t always realize that I need his help, or know what kind of help I’m expecting. This is not because he doesn’t want to be helpful, but because we are different.
Elisabeth Elliot diagnoses my problem:
“Strange how easy it seems to be for some women to expect their husbands to be women, to act like women, to do what is expected of women. Instead of that they are men, they act like men, they do what is expected of men and thus they do the unexpected….It’s another of those simple facts which are not always so simple to remember.”
When I remember this simple fact, I can resist the temptation to judge Mike, and graciously ask for his help instead. And you know what? Whenever I ask Mike for help, he says “yes!” He actually does care. A lot. He is always so eager to jump in and do whatever I need.
So, instead of expecting Mike to be like me, I can choose to appreciate the fact that he’s not like me (and that our children get regularly bathed!). And the next time he doesn’t help the way I think he should help, I can stop and thank the Lord that he’s different from me. Then I can open my mouth, ask for help, and be grateful for a husband who so willingly says “yes!”
2014 at 9:30 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
Are you worried about how your kids will remember you?
Maybe you got angry at your child yesterday, or you’ve been irritable and impatient lately. Maybe you feel discouraged by your shortcomings: all the times you’ve been distracted or self-absorbed and so missed opportunities to express tender love and affection to your children.
The monumental task of motherhood often reveals our failures and shortcomings in vivid color. We worry that our children will remember us as a mean mom. In these moments we must remind ourselves of the gospel at work in our relationship with our children.
God is growing you as your children grow: A pastor with grown children once told us: “You finally figure out how to be a parent when all your children are grown.” How true! If I could start over now, I’d feel like an expert.
But that’s not the way God designed it. He doesn’t give us children when we are old and wise and mature, but when we are young and ignorant and need to grow. In other words, he gives us children in the middle of the sanctification process; and our children, in turn, become a significant means of producing growth in our lives.
I remember one of my girls telling me—in response to my asking if there was anything she wanted to change about Daddy and Mommy—that I hadn’t been smiling very much lately. She didn’t think I seemed very happy. Ugghh. She was right. I had not been smiling very much because I was so discouraged by my mothering, and her comment made me feel ten times worse!
Thankfully, I was able to apprehend the grace of God and take her comment as an opportunity to grow. I asked God to help me be a joyful mom. And today, I’m grateful that my daughter assures me that she does not remember me as an unhappy mom.
As we quoted John Newton here on the blog a couple of weeks ago:
“I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.“
God uses weak and sinful women who are being transformed into the image of God to raise children for his glory (2 Cor. 3:18). This is a comforting thought. He is working out his good plan in you and through you at the same time. As you respond to God’s grace and doggedly pursue growth in godliness, this is what your children will see. This is what they will remember. They will remember you as a growing mom.
God has given children a remarkable capacity to forgive. “When I was a child…I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child” wrote the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 13:11), and while he was making a different application than I am here, the point holds true: children don’t think like adults.
Children are very much in the moment. They don’t tend to sit back and assess, evaluate and measure, or render judgments. They are generally slow to hold grudges and quick to forgive. And this is a great mercy to us as mothers.
Our children’s resilience does not excuse our anger. Of course not! But we can find encouragement in the fact that God has created children with a remarkable ability to forgive when we repent and ask their forgiveness.
I remember a time when my dad asked the family to forgive him for getting angry at a family member. Of course I forgave him! I was happy to forgive him! In that moment, all my anger at him melted away. I was filled with gratefulness and affection. Our relationship was restored. Even to this day, I remember that incident more because of my dad’s humility and repentance than because of the anger he expressed in the first place.
So, take heart, repentant mother. When you humble yourself and ask forgiveness, this will have a profound effect on your child’s soul. Not only can it restore your relationship, it can make your bond even stronger than before. Your repentance can serve as a profound display of the transforming effect of the gospel. By God’s grace, memories of your sinful anger will be overtaken by memories of your humility and repentance. This is how your children will remember you. They will remember you as a humble mom.
2014 at 10:57 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
Recently I was talking to a mom who was worried about how her children would remember her: “I feel like all I do all day is tell my children to ‘do this’ and ‘stop doing that.’ Correct and command. Correct and command. I feel like I’m little more than a drill sergeant, and I’m so afraid my children will remember me as a mean mom.”
Oh, how well I remember that feeling, and I’m sure every mom can relate: especially if you are like me and don’t feel like a particularly fun or creative mom.
Moms spend all day picking up tantrum throwing toddlers off the floor, and telling older children to “pick up your clothes,” “stop arguing with your sister” and “close your mouth when you chew.” Then daddy comes home in time to play a game or read a bedtime story. Of course they are going to remember us as the mean parent, right?
It’s inevitable: we will probably feel like a “mean mom” if we are faithfully disciplining and correcting our children—especially because so few parents these days (even in the church, sadly) practice loving discipline—but that is why we must fortify our discouraged soul with God’s truth about parenting.
Here are two realities to keep in mind if we are worried about our mothering legacy:
1. Don’t underestimate the good fruit of faithful discipline.
God is the one who has tasked us to “bring [our children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6.4), and when done with patience and kindness, we are following the example of our Heavenly Father: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev. 3.19).
Sure, it isn’t fun at the time, for the one receiving and the one giving the discipline: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant,” but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11) (emphasis mine).
When we command and correct we are sowing seeds for a harvest. We are teaching our children to obey God’s loving authority. We are protecting them from the path of the fool who “despises his father’s instruction” (Prov 15:5). We are raising them to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12).
One day, by the grace of God, we can anticipate a bumper crop of righteousness. We can anticipate the respect (Heb 12:9) and gratitude (Prov 31:28) of our children not in spite of but because of our faithful discipline. We can have great hope that our children will remember us, not as a mean mom, but as a loving mom.
After all, has not the Spirit of God led us to appreciate the loving discipline of our Lord? Is he not willing and eager to do the same for our children?
2. Don’t underestimate the power of tender affection.
My daughter Kristin has three growing boys and a toddler girl. So, as you can well imagine, she is “in the thick of it” when it comes to every day, all day correction and instruction.
Recently I babysat her kids so she and Brian could have a well-deserved getaway. Before bed on Saturday, Kristin’s son Owen asked if I would make them tea on Sunday morning. Apparently this was a tradition they looked forward to every weekend, and the boys were worried that with Mom away, they wouldn’t get their tea.
This illustration reminded me afresh of the outsized power of small expressions of affection. Kristin may spend most of her week prodding and corralling, but what do her boys notice when she’s gone? They remember that she makes them tea every weekend. And I guarantee you this memory will remain with them long into the future.
It doesn’t take a lot of money or big plans. The consistent expressions of love—the nicknames and the reading times, the hot tea and the “I love you’s”—will make a profound impression on your children. If you show tender affection to your children, in small but consistent ways, they will remember you as a loving mom.
“But what if I get angry at my children?” I can hear a mother ask. I’ll attempt to answer that question in the next post.
The girltalk inbox has been a bit crowded these days with e-mails from exhausted moms asking how it is possible to rise early and get time with the Lord when they are up half the night with small children. It always encourages me to hear from you! I just finished a long stretch with Summer (11 months) and Hudson (3 years) waking up multiple times a night. Mike and I would laugh (more like a half-hearted chuckle from me) that they seemed to coordinate with one another, working in shifts to make sure that I got as little sleep as possible.
So how do I wake up early when my kids want to party all night? I don’t. I can’t.
A couple months ago, I sat across from Mom, Nicole and Kristin exhausted and crying (not for the first time in the last eight years) over my lack of sleep and inability to get up early. I missed my early morning times with the Lord, and my days felt more disorganized and hectic because I wasn’t able to get up before my children. They sympathized and encouraged me to remember that this was a season—yes, a long and tiring season, but not one that would last forever.
In the meantime, I needed to get creative and develop an alternative plan. If waking up early before my kids wasn’t possible right now, then how else could I feed my soul throughout the day? I downloaded the ESV Bible app, which has an audio feature. (FYI: Over at christianaudio.com, you can get the ESV audio for FREE during the month of January!) I loaded my phone with sermons, which I could listen to a few minutes at a time. I took time to pray while I was in the shower or emptying the dishwasher.
I also sought to be intentional about my children’s schedule. I trained Hudson to have “room time” (an hour alone in his room with a few toys) at the same time that Summer took her morning nap. This guaranteed (and I use that word loosely) me a slot of time where I could read my Bible or finish a project.
These ideas may not work for you, but the point is to get creative. What are small ways you can seek the Lord throughout your day? How can you free up twenty minutes in your daily schedule to sit and read your Bible and pray?
And take heart. You are not alone. And this season won’t last forever…right???
Christmastime puts parents in a tough spot. We love our children. We want to give them good gifts. We enjoy their eager anticipation and exuberant gift opening on Christmas morning. And yet as Christian parents, we know there is a dark side to gift giving: greed. All of the presents can seem little more than brightly wrapped packages of temptation. There are temptations to selfish delight or despair, depending on whether or not our children got what they wanted. Greed can take hold, turning what we intend as a blessing into what feels like a setback in our parenting.
So how do we give generously and squash greed at the same time? We girltalkers did some brainstorming and idea sharing and came up with ten ideas to get us all started.
1. Be Intentional. Greed won’t go away on its own; we’re gonna have to apply some parental elbow grease to this one. And it’s not a one-time thing, like “Do you remember the year we got rid of Christmas greed?” We’re going to be dealing with it for a while, so we have to resist the temptation to get angry or discouraged if it doesn’t seem like our efforts are bearing fruit right away.
2. Talk a Lot. Deuteronomy 6 is a great Christmas passage. We need to talk to our children about greed and gratefulness and what it means to glorify God at Christmas. It’s tempting to give up, because our instruction often seems to go in one ear and out the other, but we are called to be faithful.
My husband likes to have little Q&A sessions with the kids and throw in a ridiculous answer to make it memorable (broccoli often makes an appearance in these little conversations). Thus our Christmas Catechism sounds something like this:
Q. What is better than Getting?
A. Giving is better than Getting
Q. Why is it better than Getting?
A. Because that’s what Jesus did.
Q. What is better than Getting? (raise volume here)
A. Giving is better than Getting
3. Make Christmas Memories. Christmas traditions help direct a child’s anticipation toward activities and memory making and not only gift getting. This is one reason we love to celebrate Advent: it is a daily reminder that we are waiting for more than presents under the tree. Cookie baking, Christmas light viewing, and story reading all serve a similar purpose.
4. Make Christmas Giving Lists. In addition to Christmas lists for Mimi we have our kids make lists for what they want to give to family members. Then we let them loose in the Target dollar section to buy presents for their siblings and Daddy and Mommy. This is one of their favorite Christmas traditions, and it is fun to see their excitement channeled toward giving and away from getting.
5. Read Christmas Giving Stories. A great addition to Christmas story time: books that highlight the joy giving such as Little Women, The Gift of the Magi, If You’re Missing Baby Jesus, Christmas Day in the Morning and many more. Powerful stories can help awaken children’s imaginations to the magic of giving.
6. Give to People in Need. Involve your children in giving gifts to those who are in need or who are suffering at Christmastime. We enjoy buying presents for newly adopted children or contributing to a family’s adoption, but there are countless opportunities at Christmastime to give locally and around the world. Giving to others helps children take their eyes off themselves and understand how much they have to be grateful for.
7. Give the Gift of Experience. Along with toys, you can include gifts of experience under the tree: books, magazine subscriptions, memberships to a local museum, tickets to a special event, lessons for art or music, or (my favorite) a family trip or outing. Over time your children may come to anticipate these gifts most of all.
8. Minimize Temptation. In other words, hide the Christmas catalogs. Avoid spending long hours in the toy section at Target with your child. Limit exposure to holiday commercials. Redirect conversations that begin, “Do you know what I want for Christmas?” But don’t mess with the grandparents. Do the hard work of parenting so that Grandma and Grandpa can have the joy of being as generous as they desire.
9. Develop a Gift Opening Strategy. We like to open gifts slowly, one person, one gift at a time. This takes a while, but the slow pace helps restrain greed and promote gratefulness. We are training our children to pay attention when someone else is opening a gift and enter into their joy. And we also insist that our children give hugs and kisses and “big thank you’s” after opening each present. Having a strategy for gift giving that encourages patience, gratefulness, and a focus on others can counteract the greed that wants to own the day.
10. Cultivate Christ-like Character. We may have outgrown a childish greed for presents, but we as parents are still tempted to approach Christmas selfishly, for our own comfort or gratification. We need God’s grace to help us serve selflessly, give generously, parent patiently, and grow in passion for our Savior at Christmastime. As we grow to be more like Christ who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28) we will encourage our children to do the same.
I’m assuming you already know about these books from Andrew Peterson, but just in case one or two of you haven’t heard of them, I mention them here. My son has worn out books one through three and is counting down the days until the release of book four.
A few days before Thanksgiving, I received a message from a soon-to-be adoptive mother with the good news that she and her husband had recently accepted a referral for a five-year-old boy in Ethiopia. She asked me for advice on bringing home an older child, as she already has several children at home. I thought I would share my letter with you.
I am thrilled to hear your news! Your message brought a smile to my face, because it was almost exactly two years ago that we first met our Jude and Sophie. We’ve been reminiscing a lot as a family this week and rejoicing in God’s goodness. I am so excited as I think of the joy you will soon experience as you welcome your new son into your family.
While I’m hesitant to offer adoption advice—after all, I am only one mother who has adopted two children less than two years ago—I am eager to pass along the wise counsel we received from our parents and godly adoptive parents that was of immeasurable help to our family. Here are a few very brief thoughts:
1. You won’t always be this tired. You will arrive home, jet-lagged from an international flight, fresh off one of the most emotional experiences of your life, with a child who needs moment by moment care and attention as he transitions to a new family, home, language, and culture. Not to mention that his sleeping pattern doesn’t correspond to this time zone, and that you have other children at home who need your love, care, and guidance through this new season. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel this tired (and I wasn’t a first time mom, either!). These were certainly the most exhausting days of my life, but also the most exhilarating. Jude and Sophie were finally here, in our family, wearing the clothes we had bought them and sleeping in the beds we had made. Sitting at our table. Holding our hands. Steve and I kept looking at each other like, “Can you believe it? They are really here!”
My counsel is first to pray for wisdom and strength, because you will desperately need both. Accept all offers of meals or house cleaning you receive. Keep things very simple (paper products from Costco are a great investment). Don’t plan on going anywhere for a while, except church and the doctor’s office. Enjoy these weeks of intense focus on your precious family. And remember that it won’t always be like this. You will feel rested again. Life will feel normal again. Just maybe not as soon as you expect.
2. Love to feel (and not the other way ‘round). Your task is challenging and glorious, but it is also clear: to love your child according to God’s Word. Lavish him with affection and encouragement. Serve him with cheerful sacrifice. And don’t waste time examining your emotions, worrying about how you feel, or grasping for an ideal experience. It was not hard to fall in love with my children, and you may feel an instant connection and deep bonds of love with your child; or your motherly emotions may come more slowly, as you love and sacrifice for your son. It helps to remember that our feelings are not the measure of true love or of the success of our adoption. In fact, by paying too much attention to how we feel, we can get tangled up in a mess of anxious wonderings that leave us feeling confused and distract us from genuinely loving our child. As C.S. Lewis wisely observed, “An obligation to feel can freeze feelings.” (HT: Sally Lloyd-Jones). The question is not: “Do I feel motherly love for this child?” but “How can I show motherly love to this child?” If we choose to love our children, we can be sure that loving feelings will follow.
3. Consistency is key. Steve and I wanted our children to feel safe and comfortable and to know what to expect from life in the Whitacre home. So we tried to be as consistent as possible in our speech, our habits, our affection, our rules, and in particular, our daily routine. As soon as they got home, we began to establish a general daily and weekly routine that paralleled what they were familiar with in Ethiopia. Following a simple daily schedule enabled us to stabilize as a family much faster than I expected. It didn’t take long before our children adjusted to the rhythm of life in our home and we were able to start adding activities such as sports or time with family and new friends. This may not be best for everyone, but it made a huge difference for our family’s peaceful transition.
One of the many blessings of adoption is that it can help you to become a better parent. You can’t take anything for granted and so you have to be more intentional and proactive. You have to listen more carefully, observe more closely, express your love more consistently, maintain your authority more clearly, and—in order to do all of these things—pray more intensely. Adopting an older child intensifies your focus on your family, which makes you a better parent to all of your children. In an age of distraction and the dissolution of the family, adoption can greatly strengthen your family bonds. This is a precious gift indeed.
4. Choose one thing and hold steady. Everything is new for our adopted children, so it doesn’t help to throw a bunch of new rules at them too. Together with your husband, consider what is most urgent or will most serve your child, and make this your one priority. For example, our son, Jude, really bucked the daily routine at first. When it was time to sit at the table for meals or coloring, he sat with both feet off to the side, ready to bolt. He threw fits at rest time and expressed strong disapproval (some things don’t take words!) when we wouldn’t let him watch TV until the end of the day. But we had decided that this was the one area where we were going to hold the line and begin to teach him to respond with joy to our loving, God-given, authority. We let many other things go for a while, but remained cheerfully resolute in this area. Today, Jude not only thrives on our daily routine, but is happy and obedient in so many other ways as well. I’ll be honest: there were many times I was tempted to give up. I wanted my new children to love me, or at least like me a little, and with my husband back at work, I was the primary enforcer. I needed a lot of encouragement from my husband and mom to persevere, but I’m so glad we did. Today Jude and Sophie cheerfully obey, and our bond is stronger as a result of having clear and loving boundaries in the home.
5. Take the long view. One of my greatest hopes was that all four of our children would become close friends. But things did not start off well at first. Jack and Jude couldn’t play together for more than five minutes without getting into an argument. They are both oldest boys, both used to taking care of a younger sister, both used to winning. After several months of what felt like constant arguing, I despairingly told my mom that I thought it would never get better. She encouraged me to be patient. Keep helping them. It takes time. And she was right: it took a good year or more. Today my sons are really good friends. Sure, they have the usual brotherly spats, but they also genuinely love and respect each other. It makes me so happy to hear them laughing in their bunk beds at night or to watch them play football in the backyard (and I don’t have to go out once!). So, resist the temptation to despair too quickly, as I did. Progress may seem painfully slow, and certain issues will always remain (as they do with all of us!), but if you patiently persevere, you will look back one day and be surprised at how much progress has been made.
6. Begin with the Bible. Adopted children, to one degree or another, have all experienced traumatic circumstances early in life, many unimaginably severe. My children probably experienced fewer traumas than most, so I am generally unqualified to speak on this topic. If your child struggles with significant trauma or extreme behavior, I would encourage you to seek advice from your pastor, medical professional, and if necessary, a biblically informed counselor. So I’m speaking very personally here, when I say that, for our family, we have been slow to psychologize, and have found that the best advice for parenting our adopted children is still plain, old-fashioned, biblical parenting advice. When I see my children as individuals, created in the image of God, with their own personality, strengths and weaknesses, and a life-history that has been sovereignly ordained by God, it helps me to be more sensitive and understanding of their weaknesses, and more hopeful for their future growth. On the other hand, when I have been quick to slap a label on a certain behavior or say, “that’s what adopted children do,” I tend to get off track. I begin to see the behavior as much more unique than it really is, and thus more difficult (or impossible) to resolve; and as a result I can easily grow irritated or discouraged. But many times I’ve had to laugh as I’ve described a “unique” adoption problem to my family, only to have them remind me of how I exhibited similar tendencies when I was a child.
7.Remember, you are a mother. When we first brought our children home from Ethiopia we took them out for injera and doro wat at a local Ethiopian restaurant. Our pediatrician had put us in touch with the proprietor, a lovely Ethiopian woman, who took the time to come to our table and talk to the children in Amharic. I asked her if she had any advice for me, thinking that she might share an important aspect of Ethiopian culture that she hoped I would pass on to our children. Her answer surprised me: “You are a mother, right? Then you have a mother’s instinct. You will know what to do.”
Of course, she was right. And her answer encapsulated the most helpful advice I have received from other parents. Adoption may be difficult or complicated at times, but it is also beautifully simple. You are adopting a child, a unique and precious human being, with his own experiences and difficulties, strengths and struggles, gifts and talents, joys and pains. And God has called you to be this child’s mother, which is both utterly daunting and yet entirely doable by the grace of God. As an adoptive mother, you are not outside God’s sovereign plan, Scripture’s wisdom, or the Holy Spirit’s help for this task. Remembering this—that adoption means I am a mother—brings it all into focus: all of the privileges and joys, all of the responsibility and commitment, all the confidence and the hope we have in God as parents.
It really is as simple and as wonderful as this: be his mother. That is my advice to you, and more importantly, Scripture’s counsel to you. God, the Father, models adopting love for us and through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, we have been given all we need to be our children’s mother.
My friend, this letter is already too long. There is so much more I could say. But most of all I rejoice with you. Children are a heritage and a reward, and God has been mightily good to you and your family. I am praying for much peace, wisdom, blessing, and grace as you welcome this precious boy into your lives. I can’t wait to see pictures!
2013 at 3:27 pm | by Nicole Whitacre
As promised, here are a few practical suggestions for how to prevent and handle public tantrums. Some may be more helpful than others, but these are a few ideas from Mom that have served my sisters and me with going on ten toddlers now.
1. Stay Home
Your child won’t throw a public tantrum if you are not out in public, right? In all seriousness, if a small child is frequently throwing public tantrums, this is a sign that he probably needs more consistent discipline and instruction at home.
This was always my mom’s wise advice when one of my children would start to disobey a lot in public: it was time to stay home for a while and focus on child training. I would clear my calendar of play dates, make arrangements to run errands after my kids went to bed, and except for church, hunker down for some focused child-training time. Often, after only a few days, I would begin to see dramatic improvement.
Being a mom means missing out on a lot so that we can give lots of attention to our children. But the sacrifice is worth it.
2. Train to go
While at home, we would train to go out. The idea is to choose a place or situation where your child most often disobeys, or where you most need her to obey. Then practice “church,” “grocery shopping,” “play dates,” “sit cheerfully,” or “time to go.”
For example, my sister Kristin trained her young boys to sit in their stroller or (when they got older) hold onto the stroller, by taking daily walks around the block. Another friend I know practiced “church” with her kids by having them sit quietly in chairs and listen to part of a sermon or sing a worship song. Or you can do a daily role-play of “time to go” where you practice and praise a cheerful, obedient, response to that command.
The more you require self-control and train to obey at home, the more likely you are to prevent public tantrums.
3. Prepare to go
Choose your time wisely – Avoid going out when your small child is especially hungry or tired. Now you may have to go to the grocery store for milk or attend a family wedding over what is usually nap time, but in general, think ahead so you can avoid creating unnecessarily tempting situations for your children.
Bring distractions – I always used to bring a snack from home for the kids to munch on at the grocery store, coloring for an evening church meeting, or toys to play with while I made a return. These are not bribes to elicit good behavior, but rather distractions to minimize temptation in the first place.
Talk to them – if your child is old enough to understand, explain what will happen and how you expect them to obey. For example: “We, are going to the park with your friends and then we will come home for lunch. When mommy says it is time to go, you are to come right away with a happy heart.” Then you can have them repeat it back to be sure they understand: “So what do you do when Mommy says time to go?”
4. Maintain authority
By keeping them contained – Keeping a child strapped in a stroller, cart, or high chair, or requiring them to hold your hand or sit in a chair teaches them self-control and obedience. It also alleviates all kinds of temptations that crop up when we allow children to run free in stores, restaurants, or meetings. My sisters and I found that consistent training and enforcement in this area eventually made it possible to take our children almost anywhere, and our children became happier and more contented as well.
By limiting commands – Pick your battles in public so you can be consistent in your authority. So, for example, it might not be wise to insist a two-year-old say “Hi” to a friend you meet in the store if you know they probably won’t comply and you can’t follow through.
And try distraction before instruction. So if a small child begins to get whiney, tell them a story or point out something fun instead of starting with “No whining.” Our goal: as much as possible to eliminate situations where our children can defy our authority without appropriate discipline.
By going home – My mom said that when we were little, she left many a grocery cart full of groceries and took us home, rather than give in to our demands. I remember I often had to leave playgroups or parks early if my son would not obey. Now of course we can’t always leave a public place early; but as much possible, we want to demonstrate to our children that they cannot get their own way by throwing a tantrum. Over time, they will get the point.
5. Don’t forget to laugh
Janelle once told me about a time she had to leave early from dinner at someone’s house because her daughter was throwing a tantrum. Janelle was being consistent to discipline at home, so she chose to laugh at herself and the situation—a great expression of humility and put the hosts at ease as well. And laughter helps to fight off despair. You are probably going to laugh about this tantrum someday. It will do your soul good to start now.
Oh, and one more thing—encourage, encourage, encourage when a child obeys in public. This will greatly increase incentive for a tantrum free next time!
None of this is easy, I know. Motherhood is hard work, and most of the time it is extremely hard work. There is no trick or formula for instantly eliminating public tantrums, and some kids will be more difficult to train than others. But the God who has blessed us with children and called us to teach and train them will give us grace to persevere and one day bring about the sweet fruit of self-control in their little lives. Let’s look to our Savior for help and hope as we persevere.
2013 at 2:54 pm | by Nicole Whitacre
Barbara wrote in to say: I’d love to see a post on what you’d advise moms to do when their children have a public meltdown, whether it is an occasional or a chronic issue.
Aaahhh, the public meltdown. Every mother can take you to an exact time and place where she has wanted to melt into the floor. My eighty-plus-year-old grandma still loves to tell the story of when my dad, just a little guy, got hold of a fire extinguisher in the produce aisle. Hard to top that one.
I put this question to Mom and Janelle the other day and we all laughed, a little dryly. Some memories are funny, and for some of us, a little too fresh.
Better answers are probably out there, but here are a few thoughts we had, from our own experience and from other moms.
First of all, we need to step back and think about public tantrums biblically and objectively. In other words, if this is a tantrum emergency, simply evacuate the premises (with child of course), and read this later.
1. Our children, to put a fine theological point on it, are cute and corrupt. They are tempted, just as we are. And public places are wired with child-size temptations: stores filled with sweets, parks with empty swings, church with little friends. We shouldn’t be surprised when they sin, but we should plan accordingly.
2. Kids are smart. They know when they’ve got us where they want us. Even a little tyke can tell when Mommy is vulnerable, distracted, or powerless to stop them. And most children, in most cases, are going to take advantage of this opportunity. We need to be smarter.
3. A public meltdown is not the ultimate measure of our parenting. It is one of many data points by which we should honestly evaluate our parenting. It means we’ve still got work to do, but it doesn’t always mean we are failing to do that work. I know parents who are incredibly faithful, but whose child still throws a fit sometimes when they leave the park. Over time (even a lot of time!), a child who is being diligently trained at home will stop disobeying in public. So just because it doesn’t happen right away doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing it wrong.
4. On the other hand, if tantrums show no signs of abating, but are increasing in frequency and intensity, we must resist the temptation to be proud or defensive or pretend it isn’t happening. No one is served by an angry response or a “Don’t judge me!” retort. We have a problem and it needs to be dealt with. And we may need help from older, godly parents. Either way, we must take the long view.
5. We aren’t in this parenting thing to avoid embarrassment. Seasoned parents know better; they gave reputation up for loss many tantrums ago. Our goal is to train our children to walk in the ways of the Lord (Deut 6:4-9). Our job description is faithfulness (Gal. 6:9). Mom’s advice has always helped me keep a biblical perspective: “You should not be embarrassed if your child (a known sinner) publicly displays his or her sin. You should only be ‘embarrassed’ if you are not consistently training and disciplining them according to God’s Word.”
6. If our goal is to glorify God (and not just avoid humiliation), we will approach public situations as part of a broader parenting plan that is informed by God’s Word. We will consider how we can serve our children by eliminating unnecessary temptation. We will strategize in order to maintain our loving authority. We will also have an eye to serve others—fellow shoppers, church members, other moms and children—before ourselves.
7. Being objective and thinking biblically helps us keep our chin up and our heart humble. It also drives our strategy. We can prepare, avoid, and react to public tantrums in a way that honors God, trains our children, and serves others. A generous helping of how-to ideas to follow in the next post.
Caitlin asks: Can you elaborate more on teaching children “emotional self-discipline”? How do you train children to manage their feelings in a way that glorifies God? How early can this training start?
As usual, this is a vast and vital topic, but here are a few thoughts gleaned from Mom over the years.
First of all, emotional self-discipline or self-control is an important quality to teach children. This does not mean we train them to be stoic or unemotional. We teach them that feelings are a delightful gift from God, meant to be enjoyed, but also to be controlled. “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28). Our job as parents is to help our children build those walls.
We must begin with example. From their earliest days, we can model self-control of our own emotions in our lives and in response to our child’s lack of self-control. So instead of panicking when they panic or getting angry when they scream, we demonstrate a self-controlled response to the situation.
One of the most effective ways my parents helped my sisters and me to learn emotional self-control (still learning, by the way!) was to model a calm demeanor, and even an affectionate amusement at our melodrama. So if we overreacted to painless fall or harmless comment, they would lovingly joke with us and teach us to laugh at ourselves. By training us not to take ourselves too seriously, they were helping us build a protective wall of self-control against the flood of emotion that flows from innate pride.
In age-appropriate ways we must teach our children what God’s Word says about the importance of self-control. Memorize Bible verses (Prov. 25:28, 1 Cor. 9:24-27, Gal. 5:22-24, 1 Tim. 2:9, 2 TIm. 1:7, 2 Pet. 1:5-8). Make learning fun through family role play—acting out a right and wrong way to respond. And sing songs about self-control. To Be Like Jesus, the children’s album from Sovereign Grace Music includes two songs about self-control. Seeds of Character by Seeds Worship also includes great Scriptures set to song, including Galatians 5:16-22.
Obviously if a child responds with strong emotion that is angry or defiant in nature, this requires consistent, loving discipline as well as consistent training. Toddlers need lots of practice to learn self-control. We can train them by insisting on self-control before we give our children what they want. For example, they must stop crying or ask cheerfully if they want the toy, or they must stop screaming if they want to stay in the room and play. Teaching a small child emotional self-control usually requires several intense years of consistent training and discipline. But if we don’t give up, this training will yield much fruit in our child’s life.
Of course, in the beauty of God’s plan, each child is different, and some children are more emotional than others. For example, one of Janelle’s children used to struggle with frequent emotional outbursts that weren’t necessarily defiant in nature, but overly emotional given the circumstances. Janelle and Mike sought advice from Mom and Dad and came up with a plan to help their daughter grow in emotional self-control. When she would overreact, Mike and Janelle would calmly instruct her to place her hand on her mouth and quiet down. This simple, specific action helped her regain her composure and made self-control to an obedience issue. Then Mike and Janelle would explain what self-control should look like, and instruct her to remove her hand and respond in a self-controlled manner (e.g. asking kindly or playing cheerfully, etc.). While this took several years of consistent training, it was well worth it. Janelle’s daughter now displays the sweet fruit of emotional self-control.
Our Goal: Protect and Prepare
Self-control protects and prepares our children. It protects them from unbridled emotions which can lead to sin and consequences, and it prepares them to handle the decisions and difficulties of life in a mature and godly manner. Training our children to be self-controlled requires perseverance, but let’s not grow weary in doing good (Gal 6:9). Let’s diligently help our children to build a strong wall of emotional self-control.
In other words, how can I be patient, loving, and consistent as I exercise my God-ordained parental authority in the home (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4)?
There are many things could be said. But since change is in the details, here are three practices that Mom reminds me and my sisters of regularly.
1. Prepare our heart.
Sadly, my sinful tendency is to be permissive in areas that God has commanded (e.g. obeying completely, immediately and cheerfully) and impatient about things that don’t exactly show up in God’s Word (depositing dirty fingerprints all over the walls).
To realign my parenting priorities, I must go back to God’s Word. I need a healthy dose of the fear of the Lord, and a reminder of what is most important to God for me to instill in my children: obedience, respect, and truthfulness, to name a few.
Meditating on passages of Scripture that outline my responsibilities as a parent helps me cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord in mothering. Listening to a sermon, getting encouragement from a God-fearing mother, reading even a few lines of a good book or a wise blog post, all can be ways of preparing my heart to be patient and consistent in parenting.
And remember, this is a temptation common to mothers! We shouldn’t be shocked or give into self-pity. Rather, we should eagerly receive the gospel opportunity to repent, experience forgiveness, and grow in grace. Given the deep-rootedness of our selfishness we will probably fight these temptations until our children leave home. But God’s grace wont give out before then—it outlasts and all our mothering temptations and needs.
2. Prepare our plan.
Mom is always encouraging me and my sisters to pick one or two areas (max) to focus on with our children. With my younger kids this usually is an area of disobedience, disrespect, or dishonesty; or it may be a sin that is causing the most disruption in the home. If we take five minutes at the beginning of a day or week to prayerfully consider our biblical goals for training our children, this will prevent many temptations to permissive parenting.
Then develop a clear, simple guidelines. What are we expecting and what are the consequences? If we can’t answer this question clearly to ourselves it won’t be clear to our children.
Now it’s time to hold the line. No exceptions. For me, I often have to write my parenting priority at the top of my to-do list. And I pray throughout the day that God will help me to be faithful.
And don’t fret. We can’t eliminate every vestige of permissiveness in a single day. We won’t do it perfectly. Our children probably won’t respond immediately. But we’ll be more consistent and patient than if we had never tried at all.
3. Prepare for a happy family.
When we take a few minutes to prepare our hearts and our plan, this will go a long way to helping us to be consistent and patient as we exercise our God-ordained authority in the home. And the entire family will benefit!
If we are clear on our mothering goals, we will be more likely to resist the temptation to impatience. When we are focused on pleasing God we will be less likely to be permissive. We won’t be carrying around a load of guilt and irritation in our mothering. As a result, we will be more at peace.
And the more consistent we are, the happier our children are. Children thrive in the context of the gracious, consistent, exercise of parental authority. They love to know what to expect. When our children don’t have to worry that Mom is going to blow up about something one day and ignore it the next, when they understand they are being held to God’s standard and not the standard of Mom’s feelings, they feel happy and safe.
So consider, what is one way we can take a grace-enabled step toward faithful, patient parenting this week?
2013 at 1:25 pm | by Nicole Whitacre
Hi all—sorry for the brief hiatus from posting. We were traveling and unexpectedly found ourselves without Internet access. Home now and ready to resume our regularly scheduled posts with a new Q&A. Have a great Wednesday!
“I sometimes have a hard time discerning between patience and permissiveness. It seems that some days I’m feeling ‘patient’ and so I don’t pick on certain issues as much, so is it patience or permissiveness?”
I threw this question out to Mom and here are a few of her thoughts:
This is an insightful question, Michelle, because we as parents often confuse godly patience with sinful permissiveness. But the two are not the same.
Patient parenting means we are “slow to anger” in the face of provocation or disobedience from our children (Ex. 34:6, James 1:19). It does not mean we don’t bring appropriate discipline, but that we discipline in love.
As Jerry Bridges explains, patience “seeks the ultimate good of [our child] rather than the immediate satisfaction of our own aroused emotions.”
Permissive parenting often masquerades as patience, but has different motives underlying it. Sinfully permissive parenting is often based on our emotions—whether or not we feel like correcting our children’s sin or whether or not we want to deal with this right now—rather than a commitment to teach our children to submit to our loving authority for their good and God’s glory.
In fact, permissiveness in parenting can be an abdication of our God-given, lovingly exercised authority. Permissive parenting may unintentionally put the kids in charge, which is the opposite of what God has ordained.
In short, permissive parenting is often about how we feel or what we want; patient parenting is about what would please God and help our children to grow in Christ-like character.
For example, it is not patient to instruct our children to do something but then give in to them when they beg off. It’s permissive.
It is not being patient to tell our children not to do something, and then fail to follow through or merely repeat our instructions when they ignore our commands or whine or argue. It’s permissive.
It is not patient parenting to look the other way when our children sin or to neglect to train them to overcome patterns of sin. It’s permissive
It is not being patient to satisfy our child’s every desire and give into his every demand, even if it feels patient because it requires sacrifice on our part. It’s permissive.
Ironically, sometimes the easiest way to tell if we have slipped into permissive parenting is if we are tempted to be impatient. I remember that when I used to get impatient with my children it was usually a sign that I had been growing lax and permissive in my parenting. Because I wasn’t faithful to give clear commands and bring appropriate and loving discipline when they disobeyed, my children’s behavior would grow more unruly and I would respond more impatiently.
Permissive parenting is one of the easiest traps for us to fall into as a mom. Sadly, I can recall many times when I was more permissive than patient in my parenting. But our Heavenly Father is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and patience toward us. He does not ignore our sins of laziness and impatience, but rather he sent his Son to pay for them at the cross. And the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts, training us to obey God’s Word and grow in Christ-like patience toward our children.
So how does God help us to avoid becoming permissive and impatient in our parenting?