"Mommy, can I help?"
"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward." ~Psalm 127:3
Before I had kids I was literally bursting with plans and ideas about spending quality time together side by side! Art projects, tea parties, decorating, gardening...baking sugar cookies! It only took one time frosting those cookies with my little one to run into a problem, but when I say I "ran into" a problem I don't mean that I actually acknowledged it as "my" problem - at the time...
"Listen my son, to your father's instruction an do not forsake your mother's teaching." ~Proverbs 1:8
"The Conflict." I stood behind her, took her little hands in mine and we frosted the first one together. She smiled BIG. I gave her her own spoon to try it herself, and for a moment it almost looked like it was going to work. But soon, little hands were all over everything...and then so was the frosting. Little hands were in her hair...and again, the frosting. Within about sixty seconds frosting was on everything BUT the cookies, which were somehow ending up on the floor - or in her mouth. So, after several "redirection" attempts, what else would a mom do? Much to her protest, I pried the spoon from her sticky hands, took her to the sink, washed her up and we began again. I would show her how to do it - properly. "This is good parenting" I reasoned, "I just want her to learn it correctly." ...Makes sense right? Who would knowingly stand by and watch their kids do something the wrong way?
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." ~Proverbs 22:6
"The Outcome." Isn't it amazing how we humans can take a great instruction and twist it ALL outta whack! With Proverbs resonating in my mind, I soldiered on with this "right way" mentality in everything we ventured upon. I made a method out of dutifully explaining, modeling, correcting and ultimately RE-DOING every project we engaged in. It wasn't long before I began to realize that our activity times were becoming unfruitful, my child was losing interest, and I was becoming very disheartened. You can imagine how taken aback (read: mortified, appalled, in-a-panic) I was when she actually walked away from the finger paint table! She didn't walk away mad...she just walked away. I was the mad one (read: sad). Thankfully, as time went on, as every "good" parent does, I learned a few things.
"The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." ~Proverbs 16:9
I was blessed to become acquainted with Gentle Christian Mothers, an online forum which promotes parenting from a "grace-based" perspective. It was at GCM that I first became acquainted with Erik Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development. His theory identifies eight stages of development in a person's life, each of which is characterized by a "conflict" resulting in two possible "outcomes." Failure to successfully complete a particular stage reduces the likelihood of successfully completing the later stages. I'd like to touch on the two main stages that coincide with parenting preschoolers.
"Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart." ~ Col 3:23
As you can see, Erikson's theory supports the idea that failure to INVEST time and guidance during proper phases of development can result in a child who struggles with feelings of doubt, shame, and inadequacy. What's more, a roadblock in early phases impairs smooth movement through subsequent phases, thus having the potential to adversely affect ALL levels of interaction and relationship that may last a lifetime. So you see, in the early stages it's not ABOUT keeping all the frosting on the cookie ;)
If we apply understanding this to a little one asking, "Daddy, can I help you?" only to be constantly met with, "Not now honey...no-no honey...NOT RIGHT NOW!" imagine the implications? Making our kids feel like a bother is something few parents intend, yet often imply. Equally important is like me in the cookie story. When you ARE letting them help, take care not to overly-correct, critique or control them in the process. Allowing children the freedom to work and interact with you side by side - WITHOUT feeling like; a nuisance, "they're doing it wrong" or you could "do it quicker yourself!" is integral to healthy development.
"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." ~ Eph 4:32
In fairness to parents and encouragement to those adult-children currently working through the effects of being raised in a less-than developmentally friendly home, it's important to understand there are many reasons why this could have happened. As best we can, we must consider them with compassion and grace.
- It could be as simple as underestimating how truly valuable seemingly mundane tasks can be in the development of a child.
- If they didn't have parents who encouraged them to help, they may honestly have no idea how to proceed.
- Special family circumstances or major dysfunction also make healthy parenting much more of a challenge.
- Then, there are always those who "appear" to have absolutely NO interest in the labor of love that is parenting and it's easy to look at them with a cocked eyebrow. But, consider how little is shown from outward the appearance. How much more might such a person benefit from help & compassion?
I suppose we could expound quite a bit on these issues when I create the "wounded parenting - we're all in this together!" page. In all seriousness, whatever the past holds, or the present stands to behold, there is always help & hope to change. We can, every minute, turn around and choose to do "the next right thing."
"He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way." ~Psalm 25:9
I will admit that merely having this "information" helps, but it hasn't always diminished my urge to correct, control or have the "do it myself" mentality. After a fair amount of self-examination, I realized that this tendency really has less to do with "teaching" the child, and more to do with how I view myself. Looking at our children as a reflection of ourselves is a trap lots of parents fall into. I was, in a BIG way, using every activity we engaged in as a measurement of my competency as a mom. I was filling a mental checklist that I had invented to meet my own expectations of what I thought I "should be" as a parent. The truth is, many of my strivings weren't born purely out of a wish for my child's enrichment or delight. Turns out, a good portion of them were really for me. Holy reality check!
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." ~Romans 3:23
Let's face it, even the best-intentioned, most well-informed parent is going to mess this up to one degree or another! Just like placing our value in someone else's accomplishments, placing our value in our OWN accomplishments is set up for failure too. It's not about how much we can do, achieve, produce, learn, know, etc... We all fall short! There is only one way that our minds and hearts can truly be renewed and put on the right path...
To conclude, I think we can all agree there is nothing more adorable than a pudgy three-year-old beaming from ear to ear, as they hand you a picture of a blind, lopsided egg-head balancing
on seven sticks and proudly announce, "Mommy, it's YOU!" There's also nothing more obnoxious than a mom who grabs a Crayola and draws the eyes on! Lets hang onto that image
as we encourage eachother to remember;
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