I used to think that all a child needed to be good and well-behaved were good parents. If a child misbehaved, threw tantrums or fits, it must be because the parents were doing something wrong somewhere.
Once upon a time, a newly married, childless Me walked through the produce section of the grocery store. Also in the store that day was a young mother pushing around an unhappy, strong-willed, and very vocal toddler. “We’re not getting candy today.” The mother said. “Here, hold my shopping list instead.”
“No!” the child screamed, slapping the list away and throwing it to the floor.
“Fine.” The mom said, swooping down to pick up the dropped list. Realizing his mother hadn’t changed her mind, the little rebel let out a lung-filled scream of protest, which gradually grew into an all-eyes-on-him, red-faced display.
When I’m a Mom… I remember saying to myself that day. My children will never be allowed to act that way.
You see, I had a few secret weapons. First, the knowledge of a gazillion different parenting books I’d read and memorized in eager anticipation. Secondly, the hard-core resolve to put all my research into action. I’d raise my children up with love and understanding, of course, but also with strict expectations about good manners and consideration of others. Fits would simply not be allowed. Not at home, and not in public. All children need is love, direction, and consistency in training, right? They would learn that if Mom said something, that’s what she meant, and the drama would end there. What lucky children were mine, blessed to be mothered by one as wise and well-read as I! Yes, my children were going to be amazing.
Fast forward 2 ½ years.
I was pushing my cart through the produce section of the grocery store. Baby Matthias sat in the front of the cart and Toddler Gabriel sat in the back. That day in particular, Gabriel was in. a. mood. I think he was fighting a head cold and hadn’t slept well for his nap. Also, he was very upset that the Wal-Mart cookie lady wasn’t there to give out any free cookies. (Pretty much the end of the world, in his book) Whatever the reason, my beloved, ‘amazing’ child started to fuss.
“Here, hold my list.” I found myself saying. “Look,” I said passing him my pen, “you can draw on the back.”
Gabriel took both items from my hand and chucked them over the side of the cart. “No! I want a cookie!”
Taking a deep breath, I gave him my best ‘straighten-up-or-else’ look and retrieved the list from the floor.
Gabriel started moaning. Stopping the cart, I leaned forward and whispered a warning in his ear. It basically went along the lines of “You can start being cheerful the easy way or the hard way. It’s your pick, little dude.”
Gabriel gave a deep, pouting frown, but stopped his whining. Crisis temporarily averted, I stopped to pick out some bananas. That’s when I heard the strange thump, thump, thump…
Turning around, I saw Gabriel, mouth set in determination, had found and opened both mushroom packages in the back of the cart. Then, eyes locked on my face, the hard-hearted rebel sat there dumping the contents over the side.
“Gabriel, noooo! Shame on you!” The yell came out a bit louder than I intended it to.
Startled, Matthias in the front of the cart began to cry. In the back, Gabriel kicked his feet. “I want a cookie!”
“No way you’re getting a cookie now, kid. Not ever again in your life!”
Gabriel began to wail, Matthias continued to wail, and feeling all eyes on me while I crouched on the floor picking up mushrooms, I was tempted to join them.
After leaving early, I put both boys down for naps and collapsed in tears on my husband’s shoulder. “What am I doing wrong?” I asked him in honest desperation. “I’ve raised a monster.”
I was that Mom, the helpless one in the grocery store with the out-of-control, evil child. Where had I gone wrong?
My husband, pastor’s kid that he is, basically told me my theology needed some fixing. Surprised? What does Theology have to do with it? Let me explain…
I had always been under the impression that children were born innocent. We parents were gifted with brand new, sinless-bundles of joy, and it was our responsibility to maintain that innocence and not ruin them. Sounds easy enough, right? Guide them, shepherd them, correct them once or twice, and things would fall into place…
Well… Time for a reality check.
Behold, I was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Psalm 51:5
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. Proverbs 22:15
We Moms and Dads do not screw our kids up, mess them up, or otherwise ruin their naturally-angelic natures. They are born fallen, into a sinful world with sinful tendencies, just like you and I have been. If you’ve been a Mom for more than a few years, you’ve probably realized that children come by selfishness and self-absorption quite naturally. It’s still our responsibility to train our children up with consistency, love, and patience, but sometimes it takes a whole lot more patience than you might think. Sometimes it takes a while before your work starts bearing fruit.
We as parents have been gifted with little souls. Little sinful souls who have been redeemed by Christ just as we have been. Just like any other Christian, they have the capacity for both evil and righteousness. We should not be surprised by this.
It’s helpful to think of childrearing as tending a garden. It’s our job to weed out the evil and fertilize the good. This is normal. This should be expected. It is hard work. If you gave your garden a thorough weeding last week, would you be surprised at the arrival of new weeds in the same spot later on? No. That’s just part of the job. Things pop up on their own sometimes. Sure, you might want to reevaluate what mulching or pesticide (or not, if you’re going ‘organic’) options are available, but even under the best conditions, weeds are still going to need pulled.
So when my (now 3-year-old) Gabriel takes his toy hammer and ‘whaps’ his brother over the head for the tenth time this month, my response is no longer one of surprise and disbelief at my angelic boy’s hard-heartedness. Instead, I sigh and think “time for another round of weeding”.
So don’t get discouraged, dear Mommas. Keep correcting your children in patience. Don’t give up because it’s getting hot and sweaty. Those gardens will eventually grow strong enough and tall enough that the little weeds won’t have a chance anymore. Eventually, those gardens are going to be beautiful.