~by Corey Fields
It would be so much more convenient if children did things on a schedule.
I don’t mean things like eating. We do that on a schedule (well, sometimes). I don’t mean things like church. We do that on a schedule. Waking up, going to bed, practicing piano…all on a schedule.
The things children never do on a schedule have to do with those emotions, mishaps, and crucial teaching moments that hold parenting’s greatest potential but that I so often botch because they come unexpectedly and at the most inconvenient times.
Of course, I’m just being facetious when I talk about wanting such things to be on a schedule. Obviously they never are. But maybe others have had that moment of disillusionment when you discover that few of life’s crucial conversations happen the way they do in the sitcoms.
Remember all those shows and movies we grew up watching? Whether it’s Danny having that important life talk with Stephanie or Uncle Phil having that teaching moment with Will, they always seem to happen when everyone at least has time for it. A child is sitting on their bed in tears when the parent happens to walk in, unflustered. Two people are alone in a car with no distractions and are not late to where they’re going. A teenager walks into a room after a break-up, and the parent just happens to be on the couch with a magazine and coffee.
Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but it never happens that way for me.
More often than not, those volatile or key life moments with my children tend to spring up when I’m late, flustered, grumpy, busy, or just trying to do 10 other things…which is more often than not.
My wife, my children and I are about to make a big life transition. We’ve lived in the Midwest for 10 years, but our extended family is on the east coast. I’ve accepted a call to a new church and we will soon be moving 1200 miles away from the only home and church my children have known so far.
Of course, the news is not all sad. My children are excited about seeing their grandparents, cousins, and others more often, and have already made a couple of friends in our new church. But they are old enough to have already started processing that this means not seeing their Midwest friends anymore without using Skype or buying a plane ticket.
This means that my wife and I will have many opportunities to help our children understand and process grief and all the other things associated with a transition.
The trouble is that it hasn’t been happening at times that are best for talking or convenient with our schedule!
We parents are going to fail at this from time to time, and we need to be able to forgive ourselves and recognize that we are not the only ones who can help our children through life and learn its lessons (thank goodness). But I believe there are a few simple, non-guilt-inducing practices that we can try to employ that may help us be as responsive as we can when there is a “grief observed” or other important opportunity. We can draw these practices from some of the exhortations found in Colossians 4:2-5.
- “Devote yourselves to prayer…that God may open a door” (4:2-3). Knowing that prayer changes us, not God, taking time to pray that God would make us attentive and mindful in the midst of life’s busyness is the first and most important step. We will only frustrate ourselves if we “try to do better” of our own power. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. We just open ourselves.
- “Be watchful” (4:2). Most parents learn their child’s cues. My daughter gets grumpy and rude when something is going on. My son will suddenly become anxious and shut down. With some simple, gentle mental reminders to ourselves, I can train my often scattered brain to perk up when those signals are given and perhaps get the extra split second I need to address what’s behind the behavior rather than the behavior itself.
- “Be thankful” (4:2). An attitude of gratitude always changes our responses and attentiveness for the better. Let us remember to give thanks when our child is grumpy, because they are letting us know they need something from us.
- “Proclaim it clearly” (4:4). Whether or not it is possible in a moment to address what’s going on with our child, one very simple thing we can usually do that always makes a difference is validate our child’s feelings, which also teaches them to verbalize them. “I understand you’re angry right now.” “It’s OK to be sad, and as soon as I’m off the phone, I’ll come talk.”
- If we do the above to recognize when a veiled cry for help or attention has arrived, we are better poised to “make the most of every opportunity” (4:5).
After all, Jesus seems to tell us that the work of the Holy Spirit is more like our children’s moments than we might realize: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with…the Spirit” (John 3:8).