By Jeannette Webb
“What are the most important lessons as a mother that you have learned through your parenting experiences thus far?”
A young mother recently asked me this question and I found it intriguing. It’s a tough question as there have been so many mistakes and so many lessons learned, but if I had to sum up my top 5, it would be these.
1. Kids are capable of so much more than most people give them credit for.
I feel very blessed that I trained many kids before I actually had any of my own. As a Youth Development Specialist, I spent a decade working with wonderful families. I watched successful parents carefully and plied them with questions. I helped many students develop life-changing leadership projects and grow into fine human beings. Thus, when my own children came along I knew what kids are capable of and wasn’t afraid to challenge my own. From the time they could toddle, they began helping me in every facet of life – cleaning house, home improvement projects, gardening, cooking, planning for meetings, public speaking, church events, politics . . . . From the time they were tiny, I expected mature behavior and contributions to the family (and extended grace when I didn’t get it). However, for the most part, they acted according to my expectations. Which leads us to the next point.
2. It is normal to have good attitudes and close relationships within a family.
It a day and time when little kid bad attitudes and teenage rebellion are celebrated and expected, I not only did not expect it, but would not have tolerated it if it had reared its head. Sure, we had our moments, especially when I first pulled my son out of public school. It wasn’t a problem with attitude toward me (he knew better than that) but his attitude toward his sister (picked up, no doubt, from the kids he was around all day).
When I witnessed the transition from sibling bickering to best friends, I learned an important lesson. Attitudes are caught from those you are around. From that point forward, I made sure that they were primarily around adults. We didn’t do church youth group (primarily because of the lousy attitudes of the other kids). We didn’t do daily classes with others or even a homeschool weekly co-op. We didn’t saturate the summer with kid events – camps, mission trips, etc. If we did something like that, I was with them or I was teaching and they were helping me or they were with their father working with other adults. They weren’t set loose for days on end to absorb the fallout of poor parenting in other kids.
3. Moms (and Dads) must be tough.
Part of what created the good attitudes and cheerful dispositions at our house was the fact that I simply would not put up with anything else. I’m a really, really tough mom. Not because I don’t love my kids, but because I love them desperately and wanted them to be ready for a life that is, at best, hard and unpredictable.
After years of watching families, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Achilles heel of Christian parenting is a soft parent. Too many families coddle their kids and make like way too easy for them. Of course I sheltered my kids (we didn’t have a TV, they weren’t around questionable people, we didn’t do sleep overs, etc.). But they weren’t protected from the folly of their own choices or living in the real world. When they did something stupid, there was an immediate consequence. I didn’t allow drama – whether frustration with Algebra 2 or being tired and not wanting to get up and go to the paid job that morning at 5:00 a.m.
Here’s the amazing result of that. Because I was so tough when they were young, we were spared all the emotional junk most families have to put up with. I wasn’t expending energy dealing with laziness or a mouthy kid, I was enjoying my children to the hilt. They learned not to waste time with drama, or self-pity, or making excuses. They just did what needed to be done, no matter how disliked, and that freed us up to have plenty of time for fun afterwards.
4. My children’s character flaws were often a reflection of my own.
It was a humbling experience on multiple occasions to come face to face with the fact that the thing that was irritating me about one of my children was something they were seeing in me – carelessness, impatience, etc. Because they spent the vast majority of their time in my presence, there were no other scapegoats on which to blame behavioral problems. Of course, every child comes with their own set of problems and sin nature that must be dealt with but more often than I care to admit, their behavior was a smaller version of my own. It required a tough look at myself. I had to repent and do a better job of modeling for the young sponges that were following me through my days.
5. God’s plan for our homeschool adventure was different than mine.
Like most of my generation that left the comfort of traditional public schooling for my children, I self-righteously believed it was to produce exceptional kids. I fully believed that if I was strong enough and did all the right things, they would turn out godly, talented, smart, kind . . . . . . . In other words, it would be through my strength and intelligence (checking in through prayer, of course) that this wonder would occur.
What I found, however, was that the homeschool experience was sent from a loving heavenly Father to fundamentally change me. I had to learn to let go, to trust, to keep moving when nothing in my plans was working out. I saw over and over again that through my weakness, God produced strength in my kids. In the situations that devastated our family, my children’s character was forged. It wasn’t a nice and tidy chronological progressively upward climb to higher planes of thought. Life was messy and it hurt and we clung together and made it through.
Now that we are on the other side of child rearing, I can honestly say that my kids are all those things I dreamed for them (through God’s grace, not my wisdom). The unexpected part is that I’m the one that radically changed. I guess you could say that being a mom forced me to grow up.
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