"How was the test? How did your song go? Did you have a nice ride? What was class like today?"
It's not as if I don't ask these things of my kids. But I too often, with the rush of all of them and the reality of those spinning, ticking hands on the wall, I settle for lifeless one word answers when I should be hearing their living dreams, vivid fears, joys, sorrows in story form. Somehow, Sue and her family had a better pattern of sharing and listening with their questions. It was as if their thoughts and feelings and opinions and experiences mattered to each other. And, yea, how could I not want to bring in more of exactly that into my home too?
Once, when Sue was at our place just before my kids headed off to art class, Isaiah moaned to me "I don't want to go to art class today." I launched right into my own sad pattern of over-instructing/correcting/nagging, so well intended, so consistently poor. "Buddy, come on, you love art class. Just grab you're things together and you'll be glad you went once you get there."
Sue followed me up with, a question. "Why do you not want to go to art class today, Isaiah?" He didn't need a major soul unpacking.... he just didn't want to go while her kids were at our house. But her family was leaving then too, and that made sense to him, when she said it. And it gave him a chance to express his feelings, it gave her a chance to hear him, encourage his real need, and have a much better connection with my son than I had just gained.
I thought of Sue's questions again as I read an article that Ann V linked to, a post about childhood and parenting for Danes. There's a handful of points in this post that I could mull over long. One: I am guilty of over-praising.
"Research shows that kids who are always told they are smart are likely to give up easily when confronted with difficult tasks. They feel that due to their alleged smartness, they shouldn't have to work hard — trying hard makes them feel dumb, so they avoid it."
My kids' weakness here (quickly giving up when challenged and complaining about anything difficult) just might correspond perfectly with my weakness in overpraising them (and too, I know it also corresponds with that fallen nature of
Elisabeth Elliot wrote (in The Shaping of a Christian Family) how her parents assured her of their love but never went crazy overboard praising her accomplishments. Diligence and excellence were expected, they were acknowledged, and the children were loved. The kids apparently expected that they wouldn't get everything easy and just like they like it.
"Mother smiled, although she was not given to waxing very eloquent. Daddy always said, "that's fine." Those words were prize enough for me. Our performance was not the result of relentless goading, or even the prospect of great rewards, but of the "steady pressure to be at our best," to do what was right." (page 173)
So I'm aiming, in this new year, to correct my own poor pattern with not just different words, but questions to open up a better connection for me to hear from my kids. And the questions I want to be building on are pointed.... laying out clear guidelines and expectations for my kids to see the blessing of hard choices for excellence and lasting joy over easy, limp wimpery, narcissism and laziness.
"Hey dear, how are you feeling? What have you read lately in God's word? What do you need to do to obey God's word today? What do you think might be a hard thing God gives you today to strengthen you? How can I help you, encourage you, in this? How can you trust God and go His way through that hard thing?"
"What do you think you can do to love your siblings today, even when you don't want to? What better joy do you think you could find today for choosing a hard way rather than an easy one? How do you think you might have to go against what everyone else is doing, in order to do the most pleasing thing to the Lord? What is the best joy you're after today and how are you going to get it? What are you going to have to give up to get it? How can we celebrate together, when you get there?"
"How do you think the Lord might want you to lay down what you want in order to better bless ____? How can I help you do that?"
For Sue, when she asked Isaiah about the art class, there was no pansying about it... She doesn't take the approach of "whatever you're feeling, that's true for you." Or "well, that's all you need to know." Not at all. But oh how much growth could come out of guiding my kids to see that 1- your feelings matter and 2- let's see if they're based on truth, and 3- how can you best respond to your feelings and express yourself or make the wisest choice to move forward from here?
There were other pieces of the Danish post that zinged me too. There are a heap of areas where parenting needs to improve on the K front. I want to be careful to assess where we're at and intentional to aim for the best way forward, but my first priority for 2016 is still to focus my own heart on the Lord, in prayer, reliance, dependance, abiding in Him, rather than on lesser book methods and parenting/ psych. strategy, questions or comments....
May the Lord build this house, these hearts, firm after Him, fruitful and bright for His glory.
Our eyes look to You, Oh God. Our eyes look to you.