My 8-year old son is learning about the human body. After a week of studying the digestive tract, I asked him to recite some of its parts. He said, and I quote, “Mouth….Asparagus…Stomach….Liver…that Little Intestine….the Long Intestine..and…ya know…bum and crotch.”
That story has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this post other than to serve as (1) humor and (2) a serious reminder of the ridiculousness of my expectations on my kids at times. That’s right, almost 9 years into this parenting thing and I’m just now accepting the reality that I expect A LOT from my kids. Intellectually. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. I pretty much expect them to act & think like adults. And not just any ol’ adults-the pastor and saint kind. Or better yet, like robots without emotions or free-will. After all, haven’t they read all the parenting and personal development books? Haven’t they taken classes and attended seminars? And don’t they stay up at night googling “how to promote peace among siblings” and “how to eat healthy and feel full” and “most effective chore charts”? And don’t they hop on etsy to shop for “best jewelry that’s not a gold-shaped heart to show appreciation for mother”? And most importantly, can’t they read my mind???
The answer, to my regular & chronic frustration, is no. No, they do not do any of those things. No, they haven’t googled all the search terms or attended all the classes or read all the books. Most of mine can’t even read yet at all! And they certainly cannot read my mind. And come to find out, they also can’t read my oh-so-subtle cues like huffing and puffing and mumbling under my breath. Or the obvious ones like yelling and threatening. They do not have a vast repertoire of experiences from which to draw on, and they haven’t confided in their life-coach to help guide them through life’s experiences. Heck, I am that life-coach! And Iam the one walking them through all of this for the first time. And expressing frustration at their lack of knowledge and skill is just as absurd as a tour guide scoffing at fist-time visitors in a new & foreign city. (Like when I visited the Vatican with my family. I was dressed in a tank top & cargo pants and my brother was in shorts and t-shirt. Let’s just say we were trading clothes in a bathroom so we could be admitted. We just didn’t know!)
So what I judge as common sense, common curtesy, or civilized behavior just might not be so with kids. Actually, I can pretty much guarantee it isn’t. I mean, really-If my son thinks an asparagus is part of his digestive tract, then it’s not that absurd that my kids act shocked and insulted about going to bed every.single.night or that they get into the same fights every.single.day or that they herd into the van like…well…a herd of animals. They need training!
They need someone to patiently hold their hand and lovingly walk with them through their childhood experiences. To live out and discuss common sense & common curtesy until it’s common. To model civilized behavior and break it down for them until they’re no longer merely parroting or using their manners on demand but until it’s in them. Really in them. Soul-deep. And as the voluntary stay-at-home parent, I am that main trainer. I’m their life-coach!
This is where I’m tempted to feel all euphoric and jazzed up about being the main trainer to my kids. Writing that last paragraph honestly gave me goosebumps and I felt excited about my job description as stay-at-home mom. Then I remembered that it’s not a 9-5 and there’s no vacation time. There’s not even bathroom breaks. I have 5 little people who are looking to me for their cues and, often, I’m just too tired or aggravated to care about training them. I just want them to be quiet, stop fighting, eat their food, clean their mess, impress every single adult they ever meet, and not wet the bed. Is that too much to ask??
Yes. Yes it is. Which brings us right back to the top of this post and the ridiculousness of my expectations. I’ve begun making a list of them, and you might find it helpful to list yours, too. Here’s a brief excerpt from my list of unrealistic expectations that tend to result in my frustration:
- my oldest son should help me care for the younger kids.
- but also, my oldest son shouldn’t feel like a third parent.
- my middle two should like each other. All the time.
- my kids should love everything I cook and eat it happily. All the time.
- they should know what I want them to do without me having to spell it out. Ever.
- my toddler should continue sleeping through the night even though he’s teething.
- my daughter should be ‘sweet’ and strong, and I can change definition as needed.
- they should like school and love reading, especially the classics.
- they should like what I like.
- they should like the outdoors. Preferably for 5 hours every.single.day.
- they should only express the emotions I’m comfortable with (hint: no anger)
- they shouldn’t interrupt me or other adults.
- they shouldn’t be demanding or loud or messy.
- they shouldn’t be too bored or too busy. Just enough.
- they should be creative, but not need my help with said creativity.
- they shouldn’t blindly follow others, but be leaders.
- but they should follow my rules immediately, constantly, and without question.
- they should basically know how to do everything and feel everything innately.
Does any of that sound familiar? I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea. So as I accept the realities that (1) my expectations can be unrealistic and (2) my kids really do need guidance with ‘basic life’, here’s 3 examples from this week of how I’m striving to patiently hold their hands and lovingly walk them toward the desired outcome which, in short, is maturity.
- We had a really nice day on Monday. Kids played exceptionally well together, we finished school without a hitch, we had fun, and there were no major issues. Until dinner time (of course) when my daughter started crying and just couldn’t stop. I didn’t know why she was crying and I didn’t know what to do about it. Kid Crying has a way of getting on my nerves frighteningly fast, and my daughter’s cry has a direct path every time. I was tempted to just send her to her room out of frustration and with the storyline of “Whew, girls are tough! If this is a foreshadowing of teen years…” and “I don’t have time for this.” But then I remembered my goal of actually guiding her through her experiences and I wondered if a little time taken now will pay dividends later. So I left the kitchen and sat with her on the couch. I hugged her and asked what she was feeling. She said her feelings were feeling bad. I replayed the past few days and remembered she was low on sleep. I made a mental note and asked if she felt tired. And then I explained what tired might feel like in her head, her body, her eyelids. Then I shared what I feel like when my feelings are feeling bad. I told her how I try to take care of myself like a little baby. I asked her if she’s ever seen me take care of myself. She stopped crying and said, “Yes. When you’re mad or sad you send yourself to your room.” Then she scooped up her dolls and said with a smile “I’m going to sit in your room for a little bit.” She skipped up the stairs and returned 15 minutes later with a look of triumph on her face. All she said is, “I took care of myself. I feel better.”
- Wednesday brought a dinner recipe that none of the kids liked. Like Kid Crying, Kid Complaining also has a way of getting on my nerves frighteningly fast, and I wanted to enjoy my meal and their company if possible. So I said, “guys, I worked hard to cook a healthy meal with what was available. I know you don’t like the taste of this meal. But I would like you to eat it-everything in your bowl- without complaining or negotiating with me. And if you can do that, Mom & Dad will take you out for ice cream. As you grow up, you might find yourself with friends or on a date or at a business meeting or in a foreign country being served something you don’t like. It will be important that you know how to be polite and eat something you don’t like.” We set a timer for 20 minutes, encouraged their every bite down to the last grain of (apparently disgusting) rice, and took them out for ice cream.
- I mentioned earlier that the kids have a way of herding into the van with as much chaos and injury and fighting as possible. Thursday morning we were getting ready to leave the house and I felt that looming dread. So I huddled up the kids and said, “Ok. Getting into the van feels stressful to me. How does it feel to you? (they all said bad.) I like taking you guys out to go places, and I’m wondering if we can find a better way of getting out the door and into the van. I’d like it to be done peacefully, quietly, and with kindness. Do you think you can do that? (They all said yes.) Ok, so here’s what I expect: each of you will put your shoes on and get into your seats one at a time without talking. (They all did.)
I often hear seasoned parents say something to the effect of “you think it’s hard now? Just wait!” (Helpful tip: not the best pep-talk, folks.) But my wise friend has shared the quote “Train hard, fight easy.” I’d like to think I’m training my children to grow into mature adults who contribute to their communities and the world and God’s Kingdom. Sure, each of these situations I listed took a little more time and energy than just ignoring or dismissing them. It wasn’t easy. But then again, parenting isn’t easy. It’s all hard. Another wise friend once said, “choose your hard.”
I’m wondering if half of the battle lies in simply giving our kids the goal. Painting a vision. Perhaps they don’t know how to walk through experiences because they don’t know where they’re headed. What’s the goal? The destination? The directions? Even God paints a vision for his people. A trail of crumbs…guideposts…motivators to help people follow His Ways. And oh is He patient and long-suffering with us as we explore the path!