Loving Your Children
Parenting little ones is what I call “The Labor Years.” I’d like to encourage you to focus, in these labor intensive years, on loving your children. You may be asking, “Who needs to be told to love their children!?” Maternal love comes naturally to most every female, though we all know some horror stories of when it didn’t. However, once again we need to consider the definition of love.
In my desire to be honest with you, I will confess that I am still working on the very first two aspects of love in my home. Love is patient and love is kind. Clearly Jill Wragg does not possess these character traits in her own strength. God gave me six children, not because I am patient, but because I need to be challenged in it every second of every day.
I had utmost patience with my dear sweet babies. They were helpless and generally harmless and totally needed me. I loved that they needed me. I rose to the challenge. It was my job to find out what they needed and when and how. I loved to change their diapers and hold them close and wash their little toes and kiss their little cheeks. I remember when my oldest was 9 months old and I told Marc, “Parenting is so wonderful and pretty easy, let’s have another one!” And the Lord pretty much answered with a yes that day!
But about the time baby #2 actually arrived, I now had an 18 month old. Much had changed. I now had a child who could run away from me, would purposely disobey me, would scream when she didn’t get what she wanted, and the training and disciplining of this young heart was in full effect. I could barely get myself off the couch with the fullness of my pregnancy, yet this toddler now required minute by minute consistency from me. I had no idea I would ever be impatient or unkind to my own progeny, but the testing had come. The chubby cheeks wouldn’t always accept a kiss. The word “come” seemed to be the hardest word for her to understand. Food was refused, tantrums were thrown…I could go on and on.
This was the real battlefield of love now. I discovered my heart was full of myself, impatience, unkindness, and lack of endurance. God used my small child to reveal things in my heart that had not been tested in this way before.
I can stand before you with the experience of six children, six trying 2-year-olds, six potty trainings, six teachings to read, 13 years of diapers and say:
Love your children.
Love them in your patience.
Love them in your kindness.
Love them in not being arrogant.
Love them in not acting unbecomingly
Love them not seeking your own.
Love them in not being provoked.
Love them in not remembering a wrong suffered.
Love them by not rejoicing in unrighteousness but rejoicing in the truth.
Love them in bearing all things, in believing all things, in hoping all things.
Love them in your fervent serving of the Lord.
Let your love never fail.
When we’re training our first several children I worked very hard at being consistent. I had our house rules and the chosen consequences taped up in three places to help me remember my promises to them. You do want your yes to be yes and your no to be no! (Don’t expect “mommy brain” to remember what you said yesterday, or even a minute ago.) Then as child 4, 5, and 6 came along, I believe I got into a bit of rote discipline. I disciplined them because it was sin for me not to. I disciplined them because I loved them and I didn’t want them to grow up to terrorize others or to cast a bad name upon Christ. I disciplined them because they disobeyed me and God told them to obey me. This is where my train went down the wrong track for a while. I got myself in the way. I was disciplining and training all day every day-through all different personalities and all different heart issues, and I lost sight that every sin is against God. It wasn’t ultimately against me.
All sin calls into account that what God says isn’t really worth following. That God’s perfect design for all areas of life is not really the best way. The child is saying, “I know better”, or “I want differently”, or even “I simply don’t want to do what my Creator is calling me to do.” Mom just happens to be the one who is calling the child to God’s ways or even to just to sit in a chair! The rebellion towards each and every request is a sin against God, not mom. So knowing that God calls us each day to turn from our sinful ways, I steered my parenting boat a new direction again. Our discipline time again became focused on whom their sin was truly against and I took myself back out of the middle of it. This was the best way to love.
It was 100% easier to not remember my children’s offenses against me when I remembered they were actually against God. It was so much easier to not get angry when I didn’t take it personally. It was so much easier to be kind when I remembered that it was the “kindness of God that leads to salvation.” (Romans 2:4). It was easier to be consistent in discipline when I focused on God’s ways that: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Hebrews 12:11
Year after year God has taught me, trained me, and sanctified me in parenting. If you submit your heart to that constant heart work as well, you will find God to be wholly reliable, wholly your strength, and wholly the source of the very best love you can have for your kids.
So that is the major part of loving your kids: training and discipline. How else can you love your kids? Here are some practical ideas that you can consider in no particular order:
•Consider yourself a servant of your children. Of course you are the boss, but when you consider yourself a “servant of all” (Mark 9:35), you can consider yourself a servant to your children. In their hard moments, you can serve them by helping them. Give grace in that moment they are supposed to be sitting still, or tying their own shoe. In that moment you bend over to help or draw them onto your lap because you know there are only so many years you have with them. Come alongside them when they are struggling, bless them by doing one of their chores as a surprise, etc.
•Seek to give them great childhood memories. Do all you can to give them a safe, happy loving childhood to look back on. Think of your own childhood. You likely remember the highs and lows and not much of the middle, least of all schooldays! Make memories as a family. Take the trips, go to the historical landmarks, sit at the beach and let them be children. This flows easily into my third point.
•Create traditions. I have been accused of being very driven by traditions. I love that my kids look forward to the different seasons, holidays, birthdays and even restaurant stops on the way across the state. They know that mom will do her best to bless them. Traditions can include things like: what we eat anytime we have a special evening eve service, breakfast on Christmas, a treasure hunt on Valentine’s day, streamers and balloons on the bedroom door each birthday, making gingerbread houses with cousins, always traveling to a certain relatives for a certain event, weekly beach days in the summer, always getting ice cream after the beach-even when it’s out of the way, always taking them for a special date when they’re twelve, earning a new bed time at set ages. Make traditions, keep traditions, find new traditions, and occasionally let some go as the kids get older. Remember though that traditions become traditions because you ALWAYS do them.
•Don’t make your children the center of your home. It is said that the best way to love your children is to love your spouse more. Remember to keep your marriage strong and your children receive the overflow of a marriage that they can’t put cracks in. Don’t let your kids play you against each other. Your children should be able to say, “Dad and Mom run this house, not me.” Don’t let your children be the reason you do everything. Don’t always do what the children want. Teach your kids that life isn’t about getting what they want all the time, but about serving God and others before themselves. Show them how to serve, make them do some hard work every day, don’t let them always play and eat cake, or buy them a toy every time you are at the store.
•Be gracious. I’ve told you a lot about discipline and training, but love also extends grace and mercy. When you can see that your child is beyond tired, it is not the time to put on your battle armor and stand your ground. It is time to encourage them to Christlikeness. Put your arm around them and help them walk. This is not weakness, this is kindness.
•Focus on them. Your children should know that after their father, they are your next greatest joy and focus. Friends, other family, church ministry, “me time”, etc. are all secondary to your attention to them. The labor years are exhausting, but if you focus on blessing and enjoying your children, you will be blessed and refreshed. When you whine and complain and blame them for your every trial, you will find yourself in the pit of despair and ingratitude.
•Consider how you can make your kids feel special. Praise their strengths! Celebrate the day they were born. Hang pictures of them or have photo albums out. Tell them stories about when they were little or born. Let them hear you praise them to others and not tear them down, or only share their little struggles. Be their confidant. Take them out one on one. Sit down and play with them. Don’t refer to their play as “mess” or their treasures as “junk.” Put their favorite meal on a regular rotation. Fix their favorite dessert. Take them to their favorite park even if you hate it. Hug them, kiss them, hold them. This is pretty natural when they’re little, but keep it up even when they are sweaty eight-year-olds or resistant teens. They really do want your touch.
•Give your children the fences they need. Children may specialize in trying to push boundaries, but often it is so they know that the boundaries are right where you told them they are. This is security for their little hearts! I found some of my children would be really disobedient at times, and it was a great opportunity for me to show them consistent love, that the guidelines and rules in our house stayed right where I said they were, that I could be counted on, that I was concerned for their spiritual and physical safety.
The smaller a child the tighter their fence. As your child grows you slowly enlarge the fence. If you find they keep breaking through the fence of your wise care, then you tighten it back up. Remember, children need your love and care by only giving them what they can handle. They are not equals to us, they are under our responsibility. We must guide and care for them as little saplings that must be pruned and tied tightly to a stake to keep from being blown over by the cares of this world. Have a schedule. Post family rules. Show that obedience brings blessing and randomly reward their faithfulness: but don’t let them count on rewards either. Make them go to bed. Keep them napping and resting in the afternoons for a very long time to learn the joy of some solitude and quiet self-control in life. Say “no,” mean it, and hold to it without a “why”. They don’t need a why. They need to learn to obey authority in your home, outside your home, within the church, and under our government.
Jesus summed up the two greatest commandments when he told the lawyer in Luke 10:27 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
May these commands be the basis of our every moment in these labor years. May we keep our marriage relationship foremost, because it is a shining example of Christ and His church to our children and the world. May we serve, train, and bless our children (even when we feel weary) and consider them our closest neighbors. May we love our children more than we love ourselves.
Sister, I have walked in your shoes. I still walk in your shoes. My little saplings are growing into young trees. I am starting to take off some of the supports I had placed around them to keep them from falling. However, my work is far from over. There is still much work to do both with them and in my own heart. I will leave you with the words the Lord gave us through the Apostle Paul which have become my life verse for parenting. I pray you will cling to it as I have:
Galatians 6:9 “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”