Fingernail polish was smeared on the bed post, painted on the mirror, and all over his face. He came bouncing out of the room as if nothing had happened. All at once I wanted to scream and laugh and cry. Instead, I settled on a comment I knew was unwise. “Son, did you paint on these things?” Of course my question was met with a hearty, “No, not me.” My failure once again slapped me in the face. Of course my 4-year-old was not going to admit that he did this. I knew better than to ask an obvious question. Now I had two crimes: lying and painting.
The day had already been long and I needed a few minutes to focus and think. I shut the bedroom door behind me and sank deep into the center of my bed. As the tears started to fall I could hear a banging outside. I tried to ignore it in hopes of actually gaining my composure, but the banging got louder and I knew what was possible.
So I began the investigation. There he sat on the back porch with my hammer. The two metal spikes were flailing in the air as he attempted to kill a bug. My heart exploded. What on earth was I doing wrong? Why couldn’t I keep this little toddler out of trouble?
He had 3 older siblings who never once wrote on the walls with sharpie markers, painted the bed post with fingernail polish, or hammered a bug to death. I felt that I had mastered the toddler years with them. How was it possible that I was failing this child so badly? The question echoed in my head as the tears continued, “God, why am I failing as a parent?” It wasn’t that I was letting him talk back or settling for 3rd or 4th time obedience. I knew he was being held to the same standards as his older siblings.
I pondered the fact that he was but a mere 4 years old, but the excuse was drowned out with the reality that none of his siblings had behaved this way at 4. I considered that his life circumstances were so drastically different than his sister’s had been in the early years. I considered that all children are indeed different and that perhaps he needed special care.
But as I sat sobbing into the pages of the Bible, my eyes caught this verse. It was a very familiar text, one that I likely would have skipped over any other day. But my mind was suddenly flooded with the truth of my problems.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16
I was failing as a parent because I had forgotten to teach him. Somewhere between the fiery trial, homeschool life, and working full-time, I lost sight of my most important calling as a parent. It wasn’t to handle problems when they came up. No, God had commanded me to teach my children His ways (Deut. 6:1-9). He had given me His Word to teach, instruct, reprove, and correct my children in what was right.
I suddenly remembered a point that 2 different pastors had made in recent years. That word “correction” has as one of its definitions, “to make something stand up again.” My heart was so full of joy as I thought about that picture. I didn’t need to spank him, put him in time-out more, or find some other creative consequence. The truth was, I needed to give him the tools he needed to stand up again. I needed to come alongside him (with His heavenly father) and TEACH him the things he needed to know about life.
You know, little things like perhaps hitting a bug with a hammer is rather dangerous. Or that fingernail polish does not come off the bedpost and the remover might burn his skin when I take the polish off. I needed to teach him so many things that I simply hadn’t, because any attempt I make to discipline a child who has not been taught the right thing to do, will always completely fail.
So I set off to make a list of things he needed to know–a list to serve as a reminder as we do life together, so that I can use each moment to teach him what is right.
What kids really need to know and resources to help you get there:
How to use their mouths: Managing Your Mouth
How, when, and why to obey: Obedience Bible Study
How to use their time: Weekly Checklist
What is expected of them: Character Badges
How to pray: Prayer Cards
How to get along with their siblings: Sibling Bible study
This really is a never-ending, ever-changing list. These are just a few things that come to mind immediately. The thing we cannot forget is that this parenting gig must be so intentional!
Oh friend, I can’t leave this topic without reminding you (and me) that God most desires to grow us. He isn’t angry or disappointed when we fail as parents. He corrects us in the same way we are called to correct our children, by coming alongside us and teaching us what is right. I am humbled at such a gracious gift! May we be encouraged as we extend the same gift to our precious children!
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