I recently read Instinctive Parenting by Ada Calhoun, in which she starts by saying that parenting books are mostly unhelpful because we all instinctively know what’s best for our children, and then goes on to dis everyone who parents differently to her. It almost made me write my third complaint letter of the year. However, in a chapter on discipline, I did enjoy this explanation of how kids think (from page 113):
...if they open an off-limits kitchen drawer again and again, it’s not “testing” in the way it’s often used. They’re not trying to make you crazy or test your nerves. They’re testing to make sure the rule is still the same, because if the rule is the same, then all is not chaos.
“Am I still not allowed to open this drawer?” they are asking with their actions. “Yes, this drawer is still off limits,” they say to themselves, relieved, when you scold them for getting into it. “Is it still off-limits?” they wonder again ten minutes later.
The very scary thing is that this describes my 11-month-old son perfectly, but Calhoun’s talking about two-year-olds. If my son is this persistent now, what will I be dealing with in a year? I shudder at the thought.
If I have learned one thing from looking after my son over the last month and a bit, it’s this: Discipline requires a lot of effort. It requires me to watch him vigilantly, not just look vaguely in his direction while daydreaming. It requires consistency, even when it would be so much easier just to let him touch the plant this once. The other day I caught myself feeling whiny about the constancy of this whole discipline thing before it struck me: Hang on a second, this is my job!
First of all, if I didn’t believe wholeheartedly that this was valid work and I was having some kind of influence on my son right now, why not just find someone else to feed him lunch and change his nappies and put him to bed and play that game where he sits on the back of the couch and then I pull out his legs so that he falls down and thunks onto the cushion and laughs and tries to climb back up to do it all over again! So cute! *sigh* Where was I?
Right – If I didn’t believe my role here was significant work, there’s no reason I shouldn’t find someone else to do all of that stuff while I go back to my old job and earn us some money. And secondly, if I did go back to my old job and approached my tasks there with this same whiny, “it’s all too much effort” attitude, I’m sure I’d be swiftly fired (and rightly so).
These realisations struck me with an overwhelming sense of responsibility and a warm sense of purpose! I do believe that being here with my son is a worthwhile, full-time job, even more so now that he’s testing boundaries and discovering how the world works. Among a million other things, I want to be around to keep pointing both of us to Jesus as the perfect model who we’re becoming more and more like as God’s Spirit works powerfully in us. I want to be around to show my son (or try, with God's help) what faith expressing itself through love looks like in everyday life, from sharing toys to being kind to big kids who push him when he tries to check out their trucks. I want to be around to model (or try, with God’s help) apologies and joy and repentance and submission and thankfulness and peace and forgiveness and prayerfulness; to teach him these things even as I continue to learn them for myself.
Many people have offered their (unsought) opinions on when I should plan to have my next child, should God choose to bless us with any more. More than once I’ve been told that it’s good to have your children close together to “get them out of the way.” But I don’t want to see this chapter of my life as something to wish away as quickly as possible, an unfortunate but necessary interlude before “real” life - a chance to do the work I want to do – begins once again. I want to work wholeheartedly at being a mum, as working for the Lord, and to repent each time I sigh at having to actually do my job.
While I’ll passionately debate anyone who tries to tell me that housekeeping is part of my mothering work (why are those two things still so often treated as being synonymous?), I will not deny that discipline falls very neatly under the motherhood umbrella. I’m kinda liking having a new task to add to my job description, though I’m praying that this feeling of motivation will continue even after I’ve said “no” for the 217th time tomorrow morning.
The photo's by Fadi Yakoub.