I haven’t been up to writing substantive posts recently. Not that I’m lacking sleep, not really when Sophia sleeps five hours at a time every single night; but my brain seems to still be on vacation anyway. Fortunately, there are many other great mom bloggers out there writing wonderful things. Here are a few of the posts that have got me thinking this week.
I sometimes feel like I live my life on the verge of a really great thought that someone always interrupts for a cup of juice. Sometimes I think I might have the makings of a novel somewhere inside of me, but my life is never quiet enough for long enough to tease it out. But this is what God asks of me right now. This is the kind of everyday �dying to self� that is required of me today and tomorrow and for many days to come.
I�m not sharing this to whine. I�m sharing this because it helps just to know it � to see clearly the particular ways in which we are called to sacrifice instead of just feeling it and wondering why it seems so hard sometimes.
Extroverted parents will have different struggles. They have to balance a need for social interaction with the isolation that parenting requires. We all have a balance to find and sacrifices to make, because in the end, whatever our personality types, our worlds and our circumstances are not catering to our whims and preferences.
Just knowing that we have different personalities and preferences, however, can be useful. Now we know that we don�t struggle where other parents thrive because there�s something wrong with us. We struggle because we have different needs and preferences. Now we know that what comes easily to others will come hard � some days really hard � to us.
We know that, though the details may differ, we all do struggle. We are not alone.
Elizabeth Foss has a beautiful reflection on authority and obedience , a topic that has been on my mind quite a bit recently:
We require obedience. We insist on obedience and we work day after day, every single day, to ensure obedience. When we ask a child to do something, we are polite. But we are firm. We embrace the fact that we are in authority over our children. God put us there and our children need us there. We teach them truth. We teach them that God�s laws are absolute and we require them to obey those absolute laws. For a child, the first law is “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” The only reason we need to give our children is: For this is right. God says so. We don�t shrink from our authoritative role. Rather we see it as a gift.
One of my favorite educators, Charlotte Mason, writes “Authority is not only a gift but a grace � Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love, because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognize it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart. Perhaps the best aid to the maintenance of authority in the home is for those in authority to ask themselves daily that question which was presumptuously put to our Lord � �Who gave thee this authority?�”
Of course, God did. And by golly, we better be grateful good stewards of that gift. Let�s unpack the quote a little. To train our children, we must deny ourselves. We can�t administer occasional bursts of punishment and expect a good result. We must instead be incessantly watchful, patiently forming and preserving good habits. This means we are attentive and active. Those are habits to cultivate in ourselves.
First, we don�t want blind obedience; we want the child to be inspired to obey because he believes it is right. We want virtuous obedience. We want to train the habit of control, doing what is right because it is right.
Children need to learn to focus on God�s will, not their own and on a Spirit-inspired control, not a self-control. It is easy to be controlled by oneself. It is hard to die to oneself and live for God.
The Holy Spirit will inspire, lead and give strength and wisdom to the child who is taught to listen to the whispers of his God. This Spirit-inspired control enables children to do work � to finish their chores, to be diligent in their learning, to be reliable volunteers, to stick to a marriage even when it is hard. They can do their duty. They can answer their call. They can control their tempers, their anger. They can work a little harder. “I ought” is enabled by “I will.”
We need to give children choices within limits but we need to teach them how and why to choose right. We need to train their hearts and educate their minds. When they are fully informed of the consequences of their actions, we need to allow free will, just as our heavenly Father does.
In order to train the child�s will in this manner, parents must lay down their lives for them. They must be willing to spend large amounts of time engaged with them. They must believe that children are educated by their intimacies and they must ensure that the child is intimate with what is good and noble and true. And when the child needs correction, the parent must educate in the truest sense of the word. She must teach. Our children are created in the image and likeness of God. If she looks at the child, sees Christ in his eyes and disciplines accordingly, she will train her children well.
Back to tidying your own room. If the definition of housework is that it is work that benefits the collective, ones own room seems a logical contender for personal space. If you require that a child tidy his or her own room, make the bed every day, etc. you are setting yourself up for a power struggle about whose room it is. The refusal to complete those tasks may not be a refusal to participate in the collective care of the household. It might be an assertion that this is one domain over which the child believes s/he has enough maturity to assert independence. The battle is really about who decides the standards.
What I have done is to not enter that fray. I do occasionally require Tigger to tidy her room. But I make it clear what the reasons are. If her room is so messy that she doesn�t feel comfortable playing in there and brings her toys out into public space, then there is a problem with the standard of tidiness in her room that needs to be addressed. She can choose to play in the living room, but if her bedroom is not in a state for that to be a real choice, then she has to do something about it. Similarly, she has to maintain reasonable access for her parents. As a friend put it, if the house were to catch fire and one of us had to go in there to carry her out in the night, we need a clear path from the door to the bed. And I can put conditions on which laundry I will do. I am not going to look all over her room for dirty laundry so if she wants things washed they need to make it to the hamper.
Because she is still young and learning, we have tried to be supportive in helping her learn how to tidy as well as how to develop her own standard of tidiness. Sometimes she needs prompting to see that the level of untidiness is causing her some distress or difficulty. We have also helped her to work out how best to organize the things in her room so that she can tidy. We have talked about and helped with decluttering, getting rid of toys she doesn�t really use, as well as providing storage boxes and bookshelves to enable her to easily put away and easily access what she does use. The standards have to be relevant to her.
I think the “bad kind of patience” that Melissa discussed relates a bit to acedia, or at least it does for me. Too often, I “serve my time” and endure what ought to be a delight. Thereby I lose the privilege of drawing closer to what I am intended to be. Thereby I close myself into a little box, limiting myself to finding delight in what I naturally have a preference for. Doctor’s offices are one thing, but when I am bored and restless spending time with my little ones, or impatient about having to deal with the 100th quarrel or need in a day, that is something else. Like Melissa, I should know better than to take these joys as a given. If Aidan taught me nothing else, I should have learned that these very repetitions are privileges of the greatest magnitude.