How Long Does Character Growth Take?

Are you ever disheartened because your children aren’t making the progress you desire, particularly in an area of character growth? Does this cause you to want to give up working on it? The Lord has been showing Steve and me some new insights concerning this that I believe are worthy of discussing in a Mom’s Corner.

Do you remember when I shared with you last summer about our work on teaching our younger children to say, “Yes, Ma’am” and, “No, Ma’am?” Let me reprint that part of the Mom’s Corner here to refresh your memory.

For example, this summer we were teaching our younger children to answer with, “Yes, Ma’am. No, Ma’am. Yes, Sir. No, Sir.” This was being accomplished by dropping one M&M into a mug with their name on it each time they respond in the desired fashion. At an approved time they would be allowed to eat their M&Ms. We also made this into a game for character teaching time when there was a major cleanup to be done.

“Jesse,”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Please pick up the Legos.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Two M&Ms are popped into his mouth and another one when he returns after finishing his pickup.

“Anna,”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Mommy wants you to take these socks and put them in the dirty clothes hamper.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Again, two M&Ms are immediately eaten and a third one offered when she returns. We continued until all the little tasks were completed, and would you believe they didn’t want to stop even when I couldn’t find anything else to do?

This training was so successful that the children were saying “Yes, Sir” to Nathan, our twenty-one-year-old son. Nathan was pleased enough with this show of respect from his younger brothers and sisters that he purchased a three-pound bag of M&Ms and another one of Skittles to continue the character-teaching rewards.

I wrote that Mom’s Corner a little over a year ago. At the time this was written, it sounded greatly successful, but it was short term! However, guess who, in the long run, was trained to say, “Yes, Ma’am”? It was Mom! After the newness of our project wore off, I was constantly reminding the children how they were to respond, and M&Ms were being handed out infrequently.

I was disheartened and took the situation to Steve. He encouraged me to keep working with the children on their “Yes, Ma’ams,” and to wait patiently for the results. So we continued.

Do you know that a year and a half after we began this character project with our children, they are finally consistently responding the way we want them to? Our ten-year-old son, the oldest of the children who are learning this, is the “king” of “Yes, Ma’ams” in our family. It goes down the age line as to how well each child is doing with answering properly.

Does a year and a half sound like a long time to learn to say, “Yes, Ma’am?” It sure does to me! To be honest with you, if I had known a year and a half ago that it would take my children this long to learn it, I am not sure I would have undertaken the job. At least, I would have begun with different expectations. This has brought a new perspective on the reality of what character teaching really means!

I like quick results! I am willing to put forth effort in a certain direction with my children’s character growth, but I want to see immediate, lasting results. I am slowly learning character development is not always an instant outcome kind of project! As a matter of fact, it is likely to take weeks, months, and even years.

What I am continually learning through these last twenty-three years of parenthood is that God has called me, as a mom, to be faithful to Him. Ephesians 6:4 says, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Therefore, I am to be obedient and consistent in teaching my children the ways of the Lord. I am to teach, train, discipline, encourage, and praise. I am to pray diligently concerning the specific area we are working toward. However, the results are the Lord’s; “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Whether it takes a week, a month, a year, or ten years does not matter.

How freeing this can be for us, as moms, to not have to shoulder the responsibility for the outcome. On the other hand, the responsibility of remaining consistent in focusing on the teaching and training is tremendous. It can become wearisome, at times, if our eyes come off the Lord and onto ourselves. Galatians 6:9 is a familiar verse to us. It says, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” What better good is there for us to do than to teach our children to grow in Christ-likeness?

It is easy for us mothers to wonder if we are ruining our children when we don’t see the development of character that we believe should be there. My prayer is that we can let go of these negative thoughts and feelings while dedicating ourselves to fulfilling the calling the Lord has given us.

It should not be surprising that it would take our children time to develop godly character. Look at our own personal struggles with character as adults. For example, how often do you respond to your children with a slight tone of irritation in your voice? Is that the way you want to answer them? Have you prayed and worked toward not letting this happen? Do you still do it?

Hebrews 5:14 says, “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” If, “by reason of use,” we come to discern both good and evil, it makes sense to me that “by reason of use” is also an integral part of learning to do good. “Character” doesn’t happen overnight!

I so much want to encourage each of you to expect the development of godly character to be a long, continuing, ongoing process worthy of the pouring out of your very life! Don’t look at the short-range progress but at the long-term goals. Set your heart, prayers, and consistent teaching on the Lord’s desire for your child to grow in Christ-likeness. Then patiently, day by day, teach, train, and love your children toward their character growth, knowing that the Lord Who has called you is faithful. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)” (Hebrews 10:23).

My heart rejoices when I hear my children answer with sweet, positive “Yes, Ma’ams.” I am grateful Steve encouraged me to not give up when I was ready to do so a year ago. The fruit truly is worth the continuing efforts that were put forth.

What about you? Have you been discouraged lately over a lack of character growth in your children? Have you become weary in your well doing? May I encourage you to step back, take a deep breath, lift your heart to the Lord, and continue on. Be ready for the long haul, not looking for immediate results but trusting the Lord for the long-term ones.