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!