Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6)
Ephrem is at an age where I hear the phrase, “I want to do it! Let me do it!” enough to make my brain scream. (He seems to have an internal sensor for when we’re running late because that inevitably is when he throws a fit about whatever-it-is-that-he-wants-to-do-himself.) While this streak of independence often makes us at least 5-10 minutes late no matter how much time I pad into our departure, I’m beginning to value his insistence on doing things himself.
While it’s easier, faster, and more convenient for me to [insert: brush his teeth, brush his hair, get him dressed, etc.] for him, in the long run, that’s not best for him. He has to learn – to train – to do the things he needs to do every day for himself. Some day he will be an adult and I am preparing him for that day.
So I’ve been considering how to train my children. For training to be successful, you need a goal. We need a purpose for what we’re doing, a focus. Many times new runners start with the idea of completing a 5k after some period of time – a purpose for getting out every day and running even when they don’t feel like it. This goal, this focus helps them to do the work necessary to achieve their goal.
I’ve developed a goal for how I want to parent – the end point for what I hope my parenting achieves: I want my children to love and fear God (spiritual); love people (relational); be responsible decision makers (practical); be good, self-sufficient workers (practical); and be confident and healthy (whole). At the end of the day, I need to reflect on what I’ve done to help coach, train, encourage our children to that point.
What I’ve observed recently is that training is in two parts. There is the explicit part where I’m coaching directly. “Hands are not for hitting.” “We use our words when we’re feeling ____.” “We respect others.” “Great job eating with your fork!” “Way to go!” “We do not lick your sister. …Or the dog.” (The last one was from today.) This is critical feedback that needs to be given so that my children see what we’re doing right/well/properly and what needs to change. This is an important part of the training process.
But there’s an implicit part of training – one that is probably more meaningful to my children than anything I could say directly. One that is more meaningful for me. I’ve learned in the last couple years, but especially this last year, that Ephrem is watching me keenly. I learned quickly how much he’s watching what I say and do in how he interacts with others. He is learning to interact with the world based on how I interact with the world. He and Ainsley observe my actions (well, Ainsley less so right now). And these actions will speak louder than any words I could try to use. All of this has led me to think about my own behavior, attitudes, thoughts, and actions. Am I being kind? Am I being patient? Am I controlling my temper or is it controlling me? Is my tone showing respect? If Ephrem did what I’m doing, would I be upset or disappointed by his behavior? Is this how I would want to be treated by someone else?
I read recently that marriage is a mirror and motherhood is a magnifying glass.
Looking into this magnifying glass, my shortcomings have never felt so exposed, so large, so disappointing.
Because I’m learning that when I’m not as patient as I need to be, when I’m not as kind, when I speak in anger and without love, I fail my kids. I tell them that their behavior matters but mine does not. I tell them that they are expected to live by one set of rules and I live by another. I don’t want to be that sort of parent.
I want my children to see my life and think, I want to be like her – not because I’m great, but because I’m the adult that I want my kids to grow to be like. Because I’m the sort of adult that they want to grow to be like.
Ironically, while I thought I was training them, it seems that they are training me.
Here’s hoping that I pass the test.