There's a couple I used to know who had four kids. They were great people that I loved, but I didn't think their kids were very well-behaved. When we first met them, I was a new parent myself. I just had one little newborn baby, and I was still a couple of years away from starting the hard years of toddler tantrums, defiance, drama, arguing, etc. I was still in the blissful stage of judging people with 'bad' kids, assuming I would do things 'right', and my kids wouldn't have these 'issues' that other people's kids had. HAHAHAHA!!!
Let's fast forward to this past Friday, when I stupidly took my girls to the grocery store at one in the afternoon: exactly when they should have been being tucked in for naptime. I'll spare the details, but if you've ever had toddlers, you can use your imagination/personal experiences to conjure up what a nightmarish grocery shopping trip might look like. In less than fifteen minutes I had one middle-aged woman smile sympathetically and encourage me with, "It gets better, I promise!"; one young woman walk past and say, "I'm glad I'm not the only one with a three-year-old that acts like that!"; and mean, accusing, judgemental stares from a table full of elderly men and woman at the Starbucks near the checkout line. Yes, my kids were poorly behaved that day, and that is an understatement. They were little hellions, lets just be honest. It was brutal. Bru-tal.
I've been questioning everything about parenting lately. Namely, my parenting. And I've felt like a fish out of water, floundering and flopping around, unsure and unsteady, and barely breathing at times. That's what happens when you question everything you ever thought you believed; everything you thought you had a handle on, and every opinion and conviction you thought was the right way.
It's a scary place to be, but sometimes it's necessary. Otherwise, we might just go along in ignorance, assuming our way is the best and only way, never taking the humble road of realizing maybe someone else is doing it better. You see, before I became a parent, I already knew how I wanted to parent (which seems foolish now), and I already knew that how I wanted to parent was the right way, and basically the other ways were wrong. Black and white. Easy. And then. Then, I actually had kids. And my kids grew. They grew until they were toddlers. Two toddlers and a pregnant, tired mama changes one's perspective.
Well, I realized I'd been trying so flipping hard to make my girls behave. So focused on the behavior that there was little room for grace. And little room for training these fragile, impressionable little hearts of theirs. Oh sure, I threw around the words, "Parent the heart, not just the behavior" plenty of times. It sounded good and right and all. But never, never did I sit down and think about what that would look like practically. I was too busy demanding "first time obedience" and whatnot. I was too embarrassed that they were acting like toddlers (what? toddlers acting like...toddlers?) to busy myself with the root of the 'bad' behavior: their hearts. Instead, I spoke harshly in a whisper-yell when they were out of line at Target. I sent them to time out in anger when they were fighting; I would try various methods of discipline when tantrums occured. And always, always behavior focused; rarely heart focused.
Let's get back to the couple I was talking about earlier. Their kids acted like typical kids, jumping and yelling and loud at the most inappropriate of times, just a handful of crazy! And I was quick to judge this couple. I thought they were bad parents. And now? Now, I wish I could tell them how much I admire them. How I see clearly that they were doing something right. They were supremely busy parenting their children's hearts. They knew: the behavior will come, in time. But rather than obsessing over whether their kids sat still during church, or walked not ran in the building, or were perfectly polite to adults, or obeyed immediately upon direction 100% of the time, they obsessed over their children's hearts. They were more concerned with teaching and loving and guiding them in love. Showing their kids the love of Jesus, and showing His grace, because just like we need His grace and are undeserving of it, our kids need our grace, even when they don't deserve it. How can we accurately show our children who Christ is when we are demanding, uncompromising, and so strict that there isn't room for grace? I get that they need discipline, and I'm not throwing that out the window, not at all! I just see now that my expectations have been way too high, and I've been more worried about the table of elderly people giving me the stank eye than I've been of my girls' hearts. I want to spend more time down on one knee, with my hands gently on my three-year-old's shoulders, eye to eye, and with a gentle voice and a gentle spirit, explaining to her what it is to love. Why it is that she can't push in front of her little sister, or steal a toy from her friend simply because she wants to. To gently talk to her about self-control after the tantrum has ceased, as I practice the same thing (which I'm telling you, is not easy for one who's initial response to a tantrum is to freak out. I get stressed and want to yell and stomp until she stops. In case you don't know, this is NOT effective!)
To that couple that I've lost touch with, way to go. Your kids love Jesus, I saw it in them before you left for your new adventure. Your kids know grace, and they know extravagant, undeserved love. And because of this, because of your parenting, they will know Christ and His character with a deeper, fuller understanding than the child who's parent is focused solely external behavior.
I don't want well behaved kids who don't care about Jesus. (I also don't want spoiled brats, so I'm not going totally soft either!) I don't have it all figured out, by any means. But I know this: my girls aren't supposed to be perfect, and I am determined to hold my head high even when I'm getting looks from strangers, to be so focused on the heart, confident that when the heart is in line, the actions will soon follow, and if my two-year-old isn't a perfect angel everywhere we go...SO WHAT! She's two, and her little heart is being formed slowly but surely.