I just walked through my house, turning off lights in empty rooms, and a mental light turned on at the same time as I realized: I do this because my dad taught me to.
There was a point in my adolescence where my dad explained that electricity cost money, and began fining us 25 cents for every unnecessary light we left on. We rolled our eyes and thought he was being ridiculous, but quickly adjusted our behavior when we had to hand over our precious quarters.
BECAUSE I NEEDED THOSE QUARTERS FOR GAS MONEY.
And now, 16-or-so years and some blessed maturity later, I’m walking through my own house, turning unnecessary lights off.
I am in such a training phase right now with my kids. I am constantly giving direction, redirection, praise, coaching, and enforcing do-overs. My girls recently started fighting with one another for the first time; dual time-outs are a daily occurrence.
Ideally, I’d like to be promoting values and proactively teaching my kids, but I have to respond to behaviors so many times per day that it feels hard to move out of reaction mode and towards any “bigger picture” ideals.
I was listening yesterday to an interview with Sally Clarkson in which she said:
“A lot of women give up [on a certain ideal they want to have for their family] when they really are making progress, and their kids really are listening—they just haven’t gotten old enough to own it for themselves and to verbalize back to you how important it was to them. I see so many people giving up at the wrong moment.”
She explains that the verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6) doesn’t say your child will go the right way immediately; it takes time and maturity for that training to sink in. When he’s young? He needs lots of coaching and reminders!
I loved these back-to-back reminders that all of this training is a process—a process that can, occasionally, develop habits and thoughts that last for a lifetime.
So here are three things I’m trying to intentionally teach my girls right now, knowing it might take a lifetime to soak in:
(1) “God made you so, so special. He loves you just the way you are.”
One of my girls is beginning to realize that she is different from others, both in how she copes with things (“why am I more sensitive than them? I wish I was brave like her”) and in her appearance. Additionally, she has been dealing with some teasing from her preschool classmates about her beautiful hair, to the point that she asks for a ponytail every day that she goes to school so the attention to her hair will be minimized (this is where I want to cry a little bit, because seriously, 3 year olds? I thought we had a few more years).
We have spoken with the teachers about the teasing, have brought in books that celebrate black hair and read them to her classmates, and (already) read these books at home. We also got her a doll with natural hair for Christmas, as this perceptive child pointed out that all of her black dolls had relaxed (straight) hair, which I hadn’t even realized. This was her face when she pulled the wrapping paper off and found a natural hair doll:
The first thing she said was “her hair looks just like mine!!!” I can’t help but think that seeing this beautifully-wrapped, fancily-dressed doll made her realize that she must be beautiful if someone would design a doll to look just like her.
I want my girls to know deep in their core that they are created on purpose by a master creator, loved for who and how they are, and wanted. So I’m reminding them at every possible opportunity:
When they’re good at something: It’s because God made you special, and part of His special plan was to make you good at this particular thing.
When something’s hard for them: It’s because God makes everyone special and different, and He made you good at something else, and likes to watch you try and try and get better at this!
When they aren’t like a friend: It’s because God makes everyone special and different. He didn’t make any two people exactly alike, but you’re both special.
When they don’t like something about themselves: God still made you special, and He loves you just the way you are.
(2) “Let’s talk to God about that. He loves to hear our prayers.”
Prayer has never been my strongest spiritual practice. I can praise God easily, but I like to bring my problems to God as a last resort, after I’ve pro-con-listed different solutions, maybe worried over it a little, and talked about it with a friend. (I’m working on this.)
It occurred to me about six months ago that if I never show my children how to talk to God about their problems, my children will see me as their god. If Zoe tells me, “I’m scared of being alone in my room!” and all I do is give her a list of suggestions to be less scared, I’ve taken away her power and His.
When I talk with her about her fears and then lead her to share them with God, I’ve taken myself off the throne and instead empowered her by giving her the tool to finding peace—and the chance to trust God and watch Him work.
So I’m reminding all of us:
Let’s tell God that we’re scared and ask Him to help you calm down and sleep well.
Let’s ask God to help us not get so frustrated.
Let’s tell God that you’re nervous about going to school and ask Him to help you feel brave.
(3) “There’s always a Plan B. Let’s think of some ideas.”
I’m the queen of rigidity. It’s really annoying, and I’m trying to spare my kids from having this be part of their personality. So I’m trying to train them to think of a list of possible solutions and alternate ideas when their first idea doesn’t work, instead of freezing and/or melting down in frustration. I want them to know that there are always lots of options if they can just get enough outside of their feelings to think creatively.
We don’t have time to go to the park because the sun is setting soon, but we can ride our bikes in our driveway before it gets dark, or do some water play in the bath tub. What are some other things we could do?
She didn’t answer the way that you wanted her to. What are some things we could say next?
It is very frustrating when things break. We could hit our sister in anger and go to our room, or we could try to fix this together. Which do you think we should try?
These are just a few of the “ideals” I’m holding up every day, and to be honest, sometimes I’m not sure I’m communicating them well or enough. I’m not sure my kids are listening or watching. I’m also not sure I’m the best messenger for ideals that I myself struggle with!
But I can tell you this: last week, my stroller broke while I was on a walk with Riley. It was not my Plan A to sit on the sidewalk with Riley watching stroller repair videos on my phone before realizing that I needed a wrench to fix it, and then having to walk eight blocks carrying a 30 pound child and a stroller that I was holding in a perpetual wheelie.
I felt all kinds of frustrated. Plan A was good! A walk! Exercise! Why is everything so hard? This is exactly what I’m talking about—how can I create a strategy for communicating these big-picture ideals if I’m always responding to emergencies?!
But later I saw what Riley was doing with her toy stroller.
She’s trying to fix it on the side of the road. She’s doing what I so imperfectly modeled.
And now I know: in 16+ years, my little girls might find themselves turning off a light, or thinking of a plan B, or talking to God in prayer, or (I hope) smiling at themselves in the mirror knowing God made them. So I’ll keep going with the training and the ideals, even in the imperfect moments. Because it does add up to a better person. And one with a lower electricity bill.
And to my parents: thank you for parenting us so intentionally. I am only now beginning to realize how much energy and thought that must have taken! You are my role models!