[Today’s guest post on kids and parenting is from Kelly Russell, the Caffeinated Wanderer. Her growth as a parent will sound familiar to many of us who have either navigated the journey or watched friends who have grown as parents.]
My husband and I started out parenting with the very best of intentions. We were so very excited at the thought of bringing new life into our home. We bought books, read articles, and talked often, long into the night, about how we would raise our children. Unrealistic expectations was our motto.
After our daughter was born, we immediately realized our expectations were faulty. Nothing went according to plan with this girl. Not only did our firstborn come out a daughter (we had been told by the sonogram technician that we were having a son), but she decided to come a month early. She woke up every two hours at night for the first year and struggled to learn to breastfeed for 6 weeks. Parenting was a smack in the face and our plans were trampled on. Desperately, we searched online and through parenting ministries and from books on what we did wrong and how to fix it. Through our sleep-exhausted states, we wondered, why did this look nothing like we had prepared for? What happened? What part of our final preparations had we missed?
Rule-Based Parenting – the way of authority
Somewhere in that first year we learned that there was a system of raising kids that promised good results: rule-based/authoritarian parenting. Many things planted seeds of legalism into our hearts, but it was one parenting book that I read and discussed in my women’s group at church that pushed it into full-grown Law loving and very little Grace living. I was pregnant with our second child and the book seemed to assure godly children if we parented a certain way. First time obedience was taught and we were scared for our children’s soul falling away from God if we didn’t follow the “biblical way.”
Soon we implemented that first-time obedience. Any hint of our child resisting our parental authority was seen as rebellion. Melt-downs were seen as a sin issue and not sitting still when told to at a restaurant put our child’s very soul at stake. We were on call at all times to pluck out any weeds of sin from our kids in order to bring them close to godliness.
Amidst our growing strictness, our natural and powerful love for our children never diminished. We were never at peace with the method of parenting we had subscribed to. Something was not right.
The Way of Parenting Grace
I remember at one church, where children were expected to sit absolutely still and keep quiet for the 2 hour service. I was weary having to take our middle child out every few minutes to be reprimanded because, at three, she could not sit still. At some point during that morning, I knew something was wrong. The following week I heard about grace-based parenting and looked into it. This different form of parenting wowed me at first because it was so very different from what I had been taught.
I wish I could say we threw out all legalistic parenting books right away, but this turning away from legalism and embracing grace was a slow road. We had to begin thinking in terms of child development and age appropriate behavior. We had to learn that we could not expect kids to act like grown-ups.
Our world likes to expect children to act as if they are tiny adults. Secular culture and Christian culture alike sometimes ascribe to “children should be seen and not heard.” We have no patience for childish behavior, maybe because it requires an amount of grace to that little one we are not willing to give.
How often have you heard of someone complaining because a baby cried their whole flight? Do we stop to extend grace to these little ones – and their parents? Do we remember that the baby on the airplane has developmentally the right to show that she is tired and her ear hurts from pressure?
What about those toddlers who melt down during grocery shopping? Do we realize or understand that maybe that toddler throwing a tantrum next to the lettuce is overtired and does not know how to deal with this? Usually I’ll overhear comments that go along the line of “When I was a kid, I would have been smacked for that! This world is making brats out of our kids!”
Parenting is a balance of guiding with love and giving grace by not expecting a child to act as an adult. We must respect these younger people and let them know we take them seriously. Laughing at kids and what they say in earnest seriousness is not respectful. Expecting perfect behavior when the child is upset or hurt or tired is not respectful. We must not expect adult behavior from someone who is not yet an adult, and then be surprised when we don’t get it. Our children know the true love of God when we are careful to calm them and allow their childish behavior instead of expecting more than they can give. Can we meet them where they are in their stages of life, knowing that one day they will be adults but for now they are young?
More from Kelly – As always on the internet, I feel it best to give a disclaimer: I am not advocating for free-range parenting. It is fact that children need to be taught how to treat one another well and how to deal with emotions and boundaries. Rather, I am advocating for less authoritarian parenting and more understanding about developmentally appropriate behavior.
Kelly Russell is currently a blog author and home educator. Her goal is to equip and help facilitate a love of life-long learning. She hopes to encourage people of all ages to explore the world through books, nature exploration, and hands-on education. She is passionate about many things – education, reading, travel, faith, health, writing, Jane Austen, Doctor Who, and photography – and she enjoys sharing the things she learns with her husband and six children. You will find her at her blog, Caffeinated Wanderer, on Twitter, and Instagram.