Gone are the days when children are seen and not heard. And good riddance! That is not what I want for them. I love their playful silly giggles and how they break out into song, intermixed with their own ad-hoc lyrics. They approach the world with curiosity, surprise and awe, expecting joy and delight.
A child seen and not heard is a stifled child.
Yet…there are times I expect it from them, as if they are adult brains in tiny bodies, able to control their emotions, curiosity, and bodies. I don’t mean that we should not expect that they obey simple requests, follow well known family rules, or that we shouldn’t expect good, learned behaviors. These are necessary and realistic expectations of skills and behaviors that will help them develop into functioning adults. Someday.
No, what I mean are those unreasonable moments when we expect a child to behave as an adult. When we expect them to be something they are not (or cannot be), it is done at their, and our detriment.
It usually happens during a weak moment. Maybe I have a headache, a worry or a busy schedule. Maybe I’m just hormonal (or just in a funk, blaming hormones), or just plain-old worn out. Suddenly parenting seems messy. I’m overwhelmed by their joy, noise, and unbridled energy instead of embracing it.
So I try to stifle it. But I excuse it by telling myself I’m challenging them to grow up.
Suddenly I am more concerned with making them into what they simply are not. Maybe I want them to be sit still, for longer than is appropriate or even normal for their age. Or, maybe I want to wrangle them into enjoying a quiet activity because I have a headache, but they’ve been obediently quiet all day and now they need to PLAY. Or, worse, maybe I want them to stop crying when they are over-tired and their feelings get hurt because we’re in a hurry. It’s whatever behavior I’d prefer or would be most convenient for me. Sigh.
Trying to make our children more convenient, is not exactly what I’d like to be confessing today.
When not at my best, somehow I expect them to be at their best. And even better – beyond their capacity.
It is not fair to expect adult-like self control from a 2 or 4 year old. They have not developed those skills yet. They will come, but with time – with careful reinforcement and in small steps. Expecting too much, too soon, will likely unravel whatever progress we have made. Instead of the desired outcome I tried to force, they will fail. They will know they can’t or didn’t measure up and feel hurt, angry, sad, or indignant. Instead of a quiet, calm, or convenient child, I will get a child in full-meltdown.
I deserve the backlash. But they don’t.
Instead of making something easier (for me), my unrealistic expectation leaves us all frustrated, and emotionally raw. If we were out in public, we probably made a scene. We were that family. I was that mama, frustrated with kids being kids, who lost sight of the big picture.
The damage from what seemed the easiest for me…is profound. The unrealistic demands set them up for failure. And they feel it. If I keep inflicting expectations they cannot live up to, they will learn a pattern of failure. Their self-esteem will deflate. They will be discouraged. Bitter. And it will be my doing.
Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits – Colossians 3:21 (the Holy Bible, The Message)
The notion that I could crush their sweet spirits…wrecks me. A clear and serious warning. To me.
In reality, I don’t want them to be adults. I don’t want them to lose their free spirits. I don’t want to break them or make them into someone else than who they were created to be. I want to embrace who they are now, and let them be kids. I love who they are, even when life is messy. I don’t ever want to make them feel they aren’t good enough.
Children need expectations that take into account realistic developmental limitations. They need to be allowed to be children, even if it means we parents need to be flexible when we don’t feel like it. We are the adults! It is our responsibility to adapt.
We need to understand and embrace that they are not at their strongest when we are weak – and we should’t expect them to be. What they really need is grace. And an extra measure of gentle love, regardless of our circumstance. In those moments if I worried less about their behavior and more about their souls, and modeling the love, grace, and patience of Christ – things would be very different. Productive. Worthwhile. Of eternal value and impact. Instead of giving them the baggage of failure, I’d be demonstrating what it looks like to lay down my own desires for their benefit.
While our children are commanded to obey their parents…they cannot obey what is beyond their ability. We need to embrace their age and all that comes with it. Step back and be grateful for the way they are. Un-stifled. Un-adult. As they are supposed to be!
If it seems like trying to force a square peg through a round hole, perhaps the expectation isn’t a good fit for the child. Perhaps the square peg needs to be modified into expectations a child can actually meet.
We need to honestly ask ourselves if our expectation is setting our child up to fail. And to be gracious enough to stop when the answer is yes.
When their behavior isn’t convenient, we need to determine if what we want them to do is necessary. Do we need to attend an event that requires them to sit still too long? Perhaps we need to wait a few years. Does the child really need to be quiet? Or do we need a change of scenery. Or perhaps I should stop what I’m doing and invest time reading to them instead.
The next time our child isn’t doing what I would prefer, I will take a step back to gain perspective. Perhaps what I need to do is be grateful for their quirks, giggles, wiggles and silliness. And let my expectations yield to seeking their benefit, not my own.
Perhaps the shape they are in now, is exactly as they should be.