Here’s the truth about dinnertime at our house:
I don’t make my kids sit at the table for more than 10 minutes. And if they want to go play and come back and graze, then that’s fine by me. They know that dinner has to be eaten before they can have snacks or dessert but if they don’t want to eat, they don’t have to. Our seven year old sits at the table and usually stays for a second helping or even thirds but that didn’t happen when he was only three.
Dinner at our house is pleasant, but I know some would cringe at our routine. It’s just one way that I try to take into consideration my boys’ maturity or lack there of, and pick my battles.
The experts say that 15 minutes is the maximum I should expect for my four year old to focus on an activity. It’s decidedly less for my two year old. I would never try to potty-train a one year old or expect my seven year old to drive to school.
Seems obvious right?
And yet, as parents we often forget to examine our children’s capabilities developmentally at whatever age and stage they are in and that sets us up for unreasonable expectations.
Michelle Duggar from 19 Kids and Counting will tell you that “expectations are the death of relationships” and I agree.
As a parent are you frustrated? Impatient? Yell more often than you like? Then two things may be at play:
1. You may have a lack of understanding of your child’s capabilities and therefore have unreasonable expectations:
I firmly believe that for the early years, all the teaching and training we do is much more about training us as parents than seeing fruit in our labor at this time. Did you catch that? It’s more about training us as parents than seeing fruit in our labor at this time!
Keep praying with your one year old at night before bed, patiently teach them to stay away from a hot stove, and remind them lovingly that they need to be content with what they have. Don’t expect them to get it right now. Just persevere, and the harvest of your consistency and loving-kindness will bear a more meaningful harvest than you can imagine while you sow these seeds of life.
2. You may need to investigate your own heart to determine if you are parenting out of your own need for authority or because of what other parents might think of you instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to refine you spiritually:
Teaching our children takes time, patience, understanding, heaps of grace, and devoted prayer. Does that describe you? Don’t rush through it. Never allow your parenting to be a “reaction” but instead a loving response. I’m convinced that more than God’s desire for me to parent well is His desire to first refine me well. He uses my kids to reach my own heart and to reveal the areas of my life where I am struggling or downright sinful.
Kids are gifts. We need handle our gifts with care and appreciation for the Giver. Instead of your focus being on a result, allow the desire for relationship to drive your parenting.
Embrace freedom to parent without comparing yourself to others, or feeling guilty because your kids are not responding to your parenting overnight. Rewire your brain to approach your day with the goal to honor God with your own responses to parenting-regardless of whether or not you are “successful” in getting the behavior you are seeking or whether or not you look like a “good mom” in the eyes of others.
How would your parenting look different today if you did not place your worth and feelings as a parent on a result?
What if you focused on doing only your part-setting the standard after carefully examining your child’s maturity and uniqueness, treating them with reasonable expectations, disciplining out of love and compassion, and speaking only what would edify those who listened? What if you did not feel like giving up in exasperation based on your child’s response?
How would it feel to know that God is the one who will change your child’s heart, and that your role is simply to lead them to Christ and to model the Fruit of the Spirit?
This isn’t a soft let-them-do-whatever-they-want kind of parenting. Have high standards for your family, encourage your kids to do the things they don’t think they are capable of doing, pursue a high calling for your family, and strive to be excellent in all you do for the glory of God, but do everything with gentleness, compassion, empathy, reason, understanding, and especially love.
My kids may not be the ideal dinner guests if I’m looking for quiet conversation and clean plates, but I don’t feel embarrassed about the standards I have set for them. That should be true for any area of our parenting. Consider this time as training for you as the parent and entrust the results of your child’s behavior to God.
YOUR TURN! Do you tend towards focusing on the “response” of your kids when parenting instead of the relationship? And what does dinner-time look like at YOUR house? :)
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