Sunday, March 30, 2014

For the people-watching parents of pre-schoolers

I may be the least credible blog “writer” ever.  Most people who write things are avid readers.  Not me. 

That is…I don’t read a lot of printed material.  For me to put a lot of stock in what authors say, I want to know if their lived-out lives are as neatly packaged as their well thought-out paragraphs.  Before I purchase a book, I have to “buy” the person selling it.

I do, however, consider myself a reader.  I like to read people.  I watch them.  I listen to them.  I take note of what they say.  I try to figure out why they believe and behave as they do.  I analyze for myself if I want to incorporate their advice into my life.  No matter who they are, I learn from them and I usually appreciate them for the enrichment they add to my life.

I am particularly grateful for the parents who “let me in” to their families.  The older women in my life who have shared their experiences/philosophies/methods/reasonings for their parenting endeavors have handed me individual bricks upon which I have built the structure of my parenting style, whether I agreed with them or not.  Therefore, this blog is for those younger than me who are starting their families or have young children.  I’m writing for those who know my family, who have asked me how I raise our kids, who are question-askers, and who are deciding for themselves which bricks they want for their own wall.  And so without further ado, here were some main methods and philosophies I employed while our children were pre-schoolers.  I am particularly high-lighting the way my husband and I “ran” our family during the toddler years.

1.        We guided our children with Scripture.

There was always a reason why we did the things we did.  The verses in the Bible were our guideline for living a pro-active life and our “go-to” when problems arose.  If a child was afraid of the dark, she was taught Ps 56:3 “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”  If a child was selfishly screaming “MINE” while hogging a toy, he was to repeat Ps 24:1 “The Earth is the LORD’s and everything in it.” 

2.       We trained them to obey us.

The kids learned a little chant: “It’s time to obey, right away, with no delay cause that’s God’s way.”  Often times, if the child did not immediately do what was required, I would ask “are you obeying right away?”   If direct disobedience of a clear instruction followed, the child was disciplined.  The method of discipline (spanking, time out, removal of an item, creative measures that occurred to me spontaneously) varied from stage to stage or child to child.

Because obedience is crucial, excuses were not acceptable.   A child could not get away with “I didn’t hear you”.  They were exhorted to tune their ears when I speak because of John 10:27 “my sheep know my voice”.  A child could also not excuse himself with “I forgot”.  We found ways to remember what was expected of us because God commands, not suggests, that His people “Remember” numerous things in the Bible.

3.       I sought to never utter, “Just wait til your dad comes home.”

My husband has a busy schedule, so there was no way I was going to wait on him to carry out discipline.  My children had to learn to respect and obey me, since I was their primary caregiver.  I also believe that young children need immediate feedback when they do something wrong. When my husband was home, he readily administered teaching or discipline that needed to happen under his watch, but I made sure that whatever happened while I was with my kids was dealt with by me and later communicated to my husband.

4.       We limited our rules.

I can not keep up with a hundred “do’s” and “do not’s”.  Unless the toddler was disobeying me directly (which is a violation of loving God), I could ensure that he or she was breaking the second most important rule “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31
With this in mind, every time we had a family or friend conflict, I questioned the kids with one main idea, “Who or what are you loving right now?” I would probe into the issue that always caused the conflict—the toddler cared more about the toy, himself, his space, his food, etc. than another person.  Therefore, when my child broke “the rule”, I would tell him what he did wrong, HOW to act the right way, and make him repeat why as stated in 1 John 4:7—“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.” 

5.       Rewards were limited for the use of training habits, not behavior.

I would certainly use treats or candy if the child was potty training, or enduring the horrible practice of eating vegetables.  However, the kids were never given rewards SO THAT they would obey or treat people well.  I want my kids to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do and because they love other people.  There were times when a child so impressed me, or so moved my heart that I would reward them with external things or activities after the fact, but I sought not to let the “goodies” be the motivation or the bribe for good behavior.

6.       I took a lot of naps.

This is really about knowing my limitations and maximizing my effectiveness.  I have a very hard time thinking well or behaving well when I am sleep-deprived.  There were times I had no choice in my lack of sleep, but when I could, I let my children take care of themselves in order to charge up.

7.       I finally admitted and fought against my own anger problem.

Never was I aware of the depth of my anger until I had children.  There are times that my attitudes and actions scared me greatly.  I got honest with the fact that there were moments I didn’t like my children, didn’t enjoy my season of life, and didn’t even like being a parent.  There were times I could wrestle and repent of my anger quickly and resume normal life.  There were times I had to change my situation so that I could “be angry and not sin”—I’d spend the whole day in public because I knew if I was at a park around people there was no way I would hurt my children!!! 
8.       I delegated my weaknesses.

I didn’t do this on purpose at first.  I often felt guilty for the skills I lacked as a parent.  But I soon found out that my husband is the very structured one of our family.  When he sets things in place, I can quickly follow suit.   A grandma taught one of my children how to make her bed.  I still can’t make a good-looking bed, or fold fitted sheets for that matter.  Also to my delight, one of my three-year-olds could organize things as well as I could, so I let her.  Imagine a toddler who gets on to her mother for not putting her shoes back in the right place!

9.       I did not micro-manage their time.

Our children have had thousands of hours of unstructured time to create, solve problems on their own, explore, find solutions to their boredom, etc.  Remember that I’m not that structured anyway.  I think this is an instance where my weakness became the catalyst for my children’s creative strengths.

10.   We let them be exposed to a variety of people and problems of the world.

Because I think the biggest threat to my child is his sin, and the second biggest threat to my child is my sin, I am less afraid of other people’s sins.  Our young children have sat on the couch with former drug dealers, abusers, and addicts and heard their stories.  They have dined at our table with people of different backgrounds, religions, and denominations.  They have ease-dropped while my husband engaged others about who Jesus is and why His death and resurrection are so important.

Because of my husband’s job in college ministry, our children have had an amazing amount of time with college students and young adults. Because of the church, they have had relationships with people of different ages, learning styles, skill sets and capabilities.  Because of our community, our kids have conversed with the elderly in nursing homes and held a baby who was meant to be aborted.  They have been friends with the mentally and physically handicapped.  They’ve had front-row seats to our friends who have grieved death and gone through divorce.  My husband and I didn’t necessarily plan for all these people to cross their path, but we’ve taken advantage of the conversations that followed—that this world is brutal and Jesus is best.

In conclusion, you may have found nuggets of valuable wisdom that you will keep in your heart.  You may decide these nuggets are crispy-fried balls of cholesterol-laden, artery-clogging vessels that you would never purchase for yourself.  I trust that you are able to make valid judgments about what you treasure and what you trash for your own family as you build your little nest. 

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