As parents, we see the big picture. We understand the whys behind the lessons we seek to teach. We know that those sight words in 1st grade lead to fluent reading in 2nd grade. We see that the 5th grade unit on government and laws prepares the way for them to pass a Constitution test in middle school. We know that sharing leads to friendship and respect opens doors. There is much to teach and our days with our children are limited, but are children are more than just depositories for information. We can get so focused on providing guidance that sometimes it is easy to overlook the child for the lesson.
Because while it may feel that we are tending to what matters, we are teaching children, not lessons. We are disciplining our babies, not their behavior. The distinction may seem small but the difference is huge.
When facing a child in struggle, there are a few things to consider.
From the time your child is born, you are told that this season goes too quickly. Everyone who has ever had a child will wisely explain that kids grow fast and that they will be gone before you know it. And while this may be true for you, it is not true for your child. This business of growing up is hard and long and there is so very much to learn. It can be overwhelming, discouraging. Emotions matter and as parents there is much that we can do to help our children. Even when you have to be the strong disciplinarian, you can still acknowledge and name the emotions your child experiences. Validating their hearts is powerful parenting.
Growing is hard, and sometimes we have to struggle through difficult problems and circumstances. Maybe that's studying multiplication tables. Maybe that's walking through the first romantic breakup. As protective parents, our impulse may be to rescue our children from all struggle, doing their homework for them. But that's not how they grow into strong adults. Sometimes, the best we can do is to acknowledge that the task at hand is hard, but has to be done.
God promised us to be with us wherever we go. God demonstrates for us in scripture the importance of being present. In Psalm 23 God says that he walks with us through the darkest of valleys. Jesus came to earth becoming present with us and he promised to be here through the very end of the age (Matthew 28). Jesus assures us that nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8). Following God's example, sometimes the best action is to set aside the impulse to teach and talk and instruct and instead choose to come alongside our child and just listen. Be present. Be loving. Be understanding. Be quiet.
The truth is that our children must matter more than the lessons we need to teach. They need us to remember how difficult it is and to love them when they fall and enfold them when the world pushes them out. When they remember that we are offering a safe place to land, they can process what they need to learn.
So, let’s take a collective breath. Let’s look calmly into their eyes. And let’s remember that there is far more to this parenting gig than teaching lesson upon lesson to our kids. We have been entrusted with their lives and that task is no small thing. There will be days when we need to teach. And many, many days when we just need to be.
May God give us the wisdom we need to clearly see which path to take.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster