The other night, my girls and I met with a group of women for an informal question and answer time. One of the women asked about marriage: “How do you keep falling in love with your husband through the years?”
We talked about the eighty/twenty rule, and about looking for ways to show love to our husbands that are meaningful to them. Last week here on the blog we considered the importance of not being so busy serving them that we don’t cultivate affectionate love.
But one of the biggest love-killers in a marriage is sinful comparison.
We’ve all done it. You spend an evening with another couple and notice how sensitive or understanding the husband is toward his wife. You then consider how your husband is doing in the communication department and find him wanting.
Or you chat with your girlfriend and hear about ways her husband is leading in the home. My husband isn’t the leader I want him to be, you think.
Maybe you bump into that woman at church whose husband is successful in his career. If only your husband worked that hard and made that much money, then you’d be happier.
It doesn’t take much. A comment or a glance is all we need to decide that, in comparison with her husband, my husband has let me down. Sinful comparison curdles into dissatisfaction. And dissatisfaction sours our love and respect for our husbands. We no longer find joy in our marriage relationship.
Which is why we must resist it at the first. We must absolutely refuse to go down the road of sinful comparison, no matter how tempting it may be. Because one thing is sure: sinful comparison never leads anywhere good.
By avoiding sinful comparison, we aren’t saying that our husbands don’t have room to grow. And it doesn’t mean we don’t ever share concerns. But if our “concerns” sprout from sinful comparison, they are suspect. We cannot see our husbands strengths and weaknesses clearly when our own sinful comparison is in the way.
Instead of comparing our husbands to other men, let’s compare our hearts with God’s Word. Let’s take seriously the command to respect our husbands (Eph. 5:33). Taking the measure of our own hearts instead of comparing our husbands to others will cultivate humility and graciousness in the place of intolerance and discontent.
What’s more, we need to focus on what we appreciate about our husbands. Sure, he may not be as great a leader as that guy, or as good of a communicator as the next, but he is your husband, and he has strengths and qualities none of those other men possess. Focus on evidences of grace, and you will fall in love with your husband over and over again through the years.
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.
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.
Q: I’d love to hear how your parents counseled you all about engagement and marriage. What did they tell you to look for in a husband?
A: There is so much to say on this topic, but here are a few “starter” questions Dad and Mom gave us when we were considering marriage, These are taken from our book, Girl Talk, in a chapter written by Mom:
C.J. and I sought to provide our daughters with a “list” from Scripture of essential qualities that should characterize any man desirous of pursuing them. These qualities included: 1. Genuine passion for God. The greatest commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matt. 22:37). A mere profession of faith is insufficient. A godly man will consistently display love, obedience, and increasing passion for the Savior. 2. Humility. ‘This is the one to whom I will look,’ says the Lord, ‘he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word’ (Isa. 66:2). Your daughter will marry a sinner—that is certain. But if he is a humble and teachable sinner who is quick to repent, then he will be sure to grow in godliness. This humility will also be evident in his love for and submission to God’s Word. 3. Love for the local church. At the center of God’s plan on earth is His church. A young man must be pursuing fellowship and serving faithfully in a local church if he is to make a good candidate for a husband. 4. Biblical convictions about manhood and womanhood. A successful marriage is due in large part to a couple’s grasp of their respective roles and responsibilities. A potential husband must be committed to complementary roles found in Scripture. He must be ready to embrace his responsibility to love and lead his wife. (Eph. 5:22-25). In addition to comparing the young man to this list of essentials, we also helped our daughters evaluate God’s commands to wives. From Scripture we asked our daughters the following questions regarding the young man each was considering: -Do you fully respect this man the way a wife is called to respect her husband? -Can you eagerly submit to him as the church submits to Christ? -Do you have faith to follow this man no matter where he may lead? -Can you love this man with a tender, affectionate love? (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:22, 33; Col. 3:8; Titus 2:4-5) Again, this list of qualities and questions is hardly exhaustive. However, it provided clear, objective, and biblical criteria to assist our daughters in discerning God’s will.
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???
What do you recommend to younger woman about getting an older woman to mentor her? I have a very broken relationship with my own mother, and feel like I have been starving my whole life for an older woman to come alongside me and mentor me.
This woman echoes a cry we have heard from countless young women through the years, and I pray this cry reaches the ears of many godly, older women in our churches.
For all of the young women who are so desperate for a spiritual mother, what can you do? What if you don’t know any godly, older, women? Or what if none of them seem to have the time or inclination to mentor you? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Pray and Trust. Ask God to fulfill this desire of your heart. After all, he put it there in the first place! Given remaining pride in our hearts, the fact that we are desperate for wisdom, discipleship, and exhortation is only the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts. And God promises to fulfill all our desires for wisdom and righteousness (James 1:5, Matt. 5:6). He will generously provide.
2. Learn a little from a lot (of older women). While it would be wonderful to have a designated mentor, there aren’t always enough godly, older women to go around these days. So make all of the godly older women you know your mentors! Observe their strengths and ask each one if she would be willing to give you counsel at least one time in one area. Ask the prayer warrior to coffee so she can teach you how she prays. Ask the organized woman to come to your home one afternoon and give you some advice. See if the experienced babysitter, or the mother of disciplined school-age children, can come to the park with you and your unruly toddler and offer her counsel. Ask the woman with a strong marriage if she and her husband can spend an evening with you and your fiancé. Create your own personalized discipleship course by drawing on the godly character and experience of many women. Just imagine the wealth of wisdom you could amass in a short time!
3. Don’t waste an “older woman moment.” In other words, don’t despise or overlook even the smallest opportunity to learn from a godly, older woman. Maybe you are seated next to her at a friend’s house for dinner or you run into her in the hallway at church. You can learn life-changing truth in five minutes with a godly woman, so come prepared. Have a list of questions and whenever you have the chance ask a godly woman for a quick word of advice or encouragement. Or send her a short email or message her on Facebook or Twitter. For example, ask a godly woman what she is studying in her daily times in God’s Word, or how she would handle a parenting situation you are dealing with. Like paparazzi chasing a movie star, we should hound the older women in our churches for godly counsel.
4. Go secondhand shopping. Learn vicariously if you can’t learn directly. Ask the godly teenage girl what she appreciates about her mother. Ask your friend who has a godly mentor to share what she has learned from her about walking with God through suffering. Get parenting counsel from another mom who is getting godly counsel from an older woman. Ask any younger woman who has access to an older woman: What have you learned from so and so? What would so and so do in this situation? Like sheaves left in a field after harvest, there is much wisdom to be gleaned secondhand.
5. Be a bookworm. Even if there is a shortage of godly, older women in your church, we also live in an age with unprecedented access to the written word, and thus some of the greatest “older women” of all time. Every one of us can learn from Susannah Spurgeon or Sarah Edwards, Elisabeth Elliot or Nancy Wilson. And you can return to books again and again for wise counsel on godly womanhood. There is much more I could say here, but my friend Jodi Ware has already written a wonderful post on this topic, which I would encourage you to read.
6. Come to learn. Show an older woman that you value her time and her godly wisdom by asking genuine, thoughtful, open-ended questions. Come to her eager to learn and receive instruction, even course-correction at times, not merely validation or affirmation. It helps to plan your questions ahead of time, and avoid questions that are not really questions at all, but make it awkward for an older woman to share a different perspective. Remember, older women have a unique calling to teach us how to be godly women. Let’s make it easy for them to do just that.
7. Become an older woman. Take what you learn from godly, older woman and apply it. Be faithful in the small things, today. Sit at the Savior’s feet and serve others in the humble place God has called you. Sow now, so you can reap later. If you take to heart the wise counsel and biblical wisdom of women who fear the Lord, and apply what they teach, you will become a woman with proven character and a fruitful lifestyle. And God-willing, some day in the near future, a young woman won’t have to look too far for a godly older woman to mentor her, for you will be the mother who raised her or the spiritual mother who is right beside her all the way. May God raise up a generation of godly women to teach the younger women “what is good” (Titus 2:3).
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.
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.
Example 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.
Teaching 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.
Discipline 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.
Training 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?