Expect Children to Be Children

Very regularly, through responses to Mom’s Corners and Titus2.com message board posts, I read of moms who are discouraged by character struggles in their young children. They wonder whether a child with a particular problem at age 4, 6, or 10 will still have it as an adult. They ask why their child doesn’t have a repentant heart, is selfish, or still bickers with his siblings, even when the parents have been consistent in disciplining. They feel they are somehow missing their child’s heart issues.

This topic is dear to me because I expect it is something that most, if not all, moms struggle with. I have had these same feelings, and asked these same questions. However, after twenty-three years of mothering, I now have the perspective of viewing both my three adult and five younger children. I can look back and evaluate the spiritual maturing process of the older children’s hearts.

I have finally come to realize a profound truth–we must expect children to be children (1 Corinthians 13:11)! They simply do not yet have hearts that can respond to the Lord with the same maturity that adults do. The growth will come, but it is a process of the Lord that continues throughout childhood.

My expectation for an encounter with one of my children was often this: I would sit with him and explain his sin, he would be filled with remorse, confess, repent, and then go off to “sin no more.” This is a mature biblical response that might sometimes be found in my dealings with a child. The more common occurrence, though, was as follows: I would sit with him and explain his sin, he would be filled with excuses and justification, and he would respond negatively. Then he might do the same wrong thing, which he had just been disciplined for, the very next hour (or even minute)! However, the older the children became, the more they were able to see their sin and deal with it properly. This spiritual maturity grew in relation to their advancing age and has been even greater upon their adulthood!

The feeling I get from some of the rather optimistic Christian child-training materials is that if you follow the “plan” your child will very soon be “perfect.” They often don’t stress, or completely leave out, the fact that it also takes time, consistency in disciplining, and prayer. In the meantime, moms are discouraged because they faithfully follow the “plan” for a month, a year, or even more, but they still don’t have a child who acts and responds as an adult. While years seems like a terribly long time to be heading toward the goal, it is a slow, step-by-step process.

God calls us to our responsibilities as mothers, such as loving our children (Titus 2:4), praying for and with them (Philippians 4:6), teaching them (Deuteronomy 6:7), training them (Proverbs 22:6), correcting them (Proverbs 29:17), and disciplining them (Proverbs 19:18). Let’s not forget, though, that He is the One Who works in hearts and also the One Who designed the growth and maturity process of a child. I believe getting at a child’s heart issues is a constant, daily process; we must continue (over and over) to repeat God’s truth to our children in a sweet and winsome way–year after year after year! When two children are fighting over a toy, both are at fault. Scripture must be shared that applies (Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another . . .”), and discipline administered if necessary. When a child is grumbling, there is Scripture that relates, such as Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” Knowing that God’s results in the hearts of our children will likely come in a slow, gradual way can help us, as moms, to be encouraged rather than discouraged throughout the process.

Moms in the midst of child rearing have to remind themselves frequently of Galatians 6:9, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Another verse that has greatly ministered to me through my years of mothering is 2 Corinthians 4:1, “Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.” Keeping up with all the “heart issues” of our children can cause us to feel like we are growing weary and faint! After all, there may be several of “them” and only one of us! Years of consistency in loving, praying, teaching, training, correcting, and disciplining children can seem like a very long time! However, remember 2 Corinthians 12:9, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

For me, while waiting to “reap in due season” in a child’s life, the bottom line between a positive attitude and discouragement is my own heart. How am I viewing the situations my children present to me? Am I accepting them as opportunities to teach my children? Do I resent them as intrusions on my time? Am I discouraged because they show me what I perceive to be failures in my children? Am I more concerned about their behavior or their heart? Do I want them to act and respond as an adult would because it makes my life easier and more pleasant?

Be encouraged, Sisters! Take heart! I expect you are likely doing what you should be doing to deal with your children’s hearts. Keep it up! Discouragement comes because we are immersed in the daily happenings. Instead, we have to focus on the Lord and the end goal, not the day-to-day behaviors. We can’t expect our children to be adults before they actually are. Find the benefit and joy in our time with them as we teach, train, correct, and discipline, rather than being defeated by an apparent lack of results. Perhaps there are results–great results–for the age of the child you are working with, but the wrong expectation is robbing you of seeing those results.

I have the advantage of looking at my older children and seeing that where they are now has been a process that has occurred over years and years. As the children have been growing and maturing, Steve and I have been praying, teaching, training, correcting, and disciplining, and the Lord has been working. My two oldest sons, whose childhood bickering would drive me to tears, are now, as adults, best friends! My little kindergartner–the one who held the sixth grader’s papers out the school bus window (and got his ankle broken)–is now a godly, responsible man. Steve and I rejoice as we watch our older children in their adult years, but it has been a long, sometimes grueling, yet truly joyful and very rewarding journey!

A Man and His Dawg

Our children are similar to most in that they love pets, especially dogs. When we visited someone’s home and they had a dog, the poor thing would be smothered by our children’s love and attention. Inevitably, on our way home one or more would ask if we could get a dog. My answer was always, “We raise children in our home, not pets. However, you may certainly pray about it.” You can be sure they did!

About two years ago the strangest thing happened–I would often find myself thinking about buying the children a dog. It was the funniest thing; it wasn’t just to be a dog but was to be a golden retriever. I knew the thought was crazy, as I didn’t even know what one looked like; I knew it would be lots of trouble; I knew Teri would be against it because everyone already had many responsibilities; and I knew my in-laws would think I’d gone off the deep end. But–I just couldn’t shake it. In fact, I began to believe the Lord was the One behind it. Once I realized it might be of the Lord, I began to look for confirmation.

One day, during my regular walk with my father-in-law, I broached the subject to him. He has a heart for his “little girl” (as you would expect), and I was sure he would advise against anything that would increase her responsibilities in keeping the house clean. If I remember right, there were two words out of his mouth, “Great idea!” I was shocked.

After such a positive response from Grandad, I reasoned that if the Lord was in it, Teri would likely be in favor of it as well. Boy, was I surprised by her response. Not only was she in favor of it, but also she said, “Why don’t we get two, a boy and a girl?” Since I was feeling God’s leading, and Teri was in favor, the decision to purchase the pup was quickly made. So, what have I learned through the process of introducing a dog into the Maxwells’ home?

First, some might think (with a light chuckle) that I no longer encourage the children to pray about something I’m against. Quite the opposite, I’m very much in favor of it. It is excellent for the family to see that God rules in the heart of their father, and the Lord can easily change Dad’s heart if He chooses to. They were able to see God turn their daddy’s heart. They have seen God answer other prayer requests, but this one was extra special to them.

Next, God has shown me how patient I can be with an animal that is not always obedient. You know how it is. Haven’t we all secretly been amused to watch a neighbor frantically calling out to a totally deaf, unresponsive dog, “Maverick, come here. Come here now. Hurry up and get in here. Right now. I mean it.” On and on it goes. The dog is having a great time and the owner looks and sounds quite silly. And yes, I have “been there, done that” during those early training months. In spite of the pup’s initial obedience struggles, I generally remained quite calm. The Holy Spirit has prompted me with this question, “Am I just as calm and patient with my children?” I am ashamed to say that I have actually been more longsuffering with a silly dog (just an expression) than with God’s precious heritage. That lesson continues to weigh heavy on my heart.

Sarah, my oldest daughter, will occasionally tease me by saying, “Come on Daddy, admit it, you love that dog.” What is there to admit? How could I say I love a dog? I love my children and Teri, but I can’t see “loving” a dog (please, no e-mails from anyone who does). Without playing word games, isn’t love really a choice that is demonstrated by actions? So, if Sarah watches the way I patiently interact with the dog, scratch its neck, and offer to let the dog ride along in the car when I’m going somewhere, she might draw the conclusion that I love that dog!

Sarah’s question was used by the Holy Spirit to teach me the greatest lesson, and it is worth dwelling on. By observing my interaction with the dog, Sarah was reasoning that I loved the dog. The question that came to my heart was, “If someone observes the way I interact with Teri, the way I hold her hand, stroke her neck, help her, and whether I want to be with her, will they conclude that I greatly love my wife?” I can have wonderful discussions with my children as we talk about how we treat those we love, but do they actually observe their father acting that way? Am I a hypocrite living for my own pleasure or a man of God demonstrating true love for his wife?

Have you ever thought about how easily a family could fill the roll of a jury if the father’s love was on trial? (Not just a guilty or innocent verdict, but evaluating it on a scale such as a jury might award damages.) My family observes how I act toward Teri. They know if I’m demonstrating true love to their mother. We may be able to put on nice faces when we go to church, but there is no fooling the children. My example, whether good or bad, is making a deep impression on their lives.

A worthy question each father could consider asking himself is, “Am I choosing to exercise true love toward my wife, or is my love a pretense?” Jeremiah 3:10-11 is great for showing us what God thinks of pretense: “And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD. And the LORD said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah.” God calls living a life based on outward show treacherous and unfaithful. He said that backsliding Israel was better than Judah who was not sincere. That is a very heavy indictment for any dad whose love for his wife is a pretense.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle greatly with selfishness. It is so easy for me to focus on my needs and myself. As long as my needs are being met, I can be very satisfied with how things are going at home. Something tells me that this is true for most dads. We will go on our merry way while our wives struggle under the burden of keeping house, homeschooling, and being wife and mother (all the while feeling unappreciated and maybe defeated). I think that if we had as “full a plate” as our wives we would often feel like quitting. Most men I know leave a job long before it gets that bad.

However, when I lavish my love on Teri, both verbally and by my actions, she is better able to face the challenges each day brings, knowing how much I love her and appreciate all she does.

I believe that Christian homeschooling dads are blessed with the most wonderful wives on the face of this earth. Our wives are walking down a road that requires great personal sacrifice. They would have so much more time on their hands, and far less challenges, if they weren’t teaching the children. Think about the character your wife demonstrates and how fortunate you are to have a wife like that! Truly, may our children see a father who loves their mother with a deep, genuine, and true love.

Posted in: Dad's Corner