I’ve been thinking this morning about difficult parenting seasons, and how God is faithful to give us wisdom in those seasons. I don’t claim to be a parenting expert – only an expert in understanding my unique children. But one thing I know from experience is that God keeps his promise to give wisdom to those who seek it:
“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”
– Proverbs 2:1-6, 8-11.
There’s No “Babies 1.0” Manual
We live in an age of “experts.” We rely on experts to tell us what to eat, how to exercise, what to wear, and how to raise our kids. Don’t believe me? Head to your local bookstore and check out all the shelves lined with “how-to” books. Chances are you may be reading this blog because you’re hoping to gain some helpful insight or parenting tool. But the truth is, the only one who knows best how to parent our kids is the One who created them.
God prepared me for this truth when my firstborn was still in my womb. I had been given several parenting books written by “experts,” and was dutifully reading them and praying about them. My sister gave me the book, “Babywise,” which had worked well with her first child (and when we parents find a method that works – including me – we want to tell everyone about it so they can find success, too). As I read about scheduling your baby’s feeding and sleep schedule to fit the needs of the parents, it sounded pretty good to me. But when I presented it to the Lord, he said, “No. That’s not my plan for you with this one.” That method may work fine for others, but it was not to be for me. Ironically, my son was very scheduled. He ate every four hours like clockwork, and had a regular sleeping schedule, but I always felt directed by God to step back and observe his needs, look at his natural schedule, and adjust my own to fit it. The difference is slight, but looking back, I see now that God was preparing me by laying the groundwork for how he would challenge me to parent later on.
Potty Training – a.k.a. “Why We Stopped After 2 Kids”
One of the scariest hurdles young parents face is the dreaded potty training. You know it has to happen, since no child goes to college still wearing diapers, but how to get your child from A to B can range from mystifying to terrifying. So what do we do? We ask our friends and family how they did it, and we read every book and magazine we can get our hands on. My poor little boy was subjected to half a dozen different methods in one week, and by Sunday I felt totally dejected by their complete and utter failure. (We had tried when he was 2 and determined he wasn’t ready, then waited until he was well past his third birthday to try again. It was time.) All the “experts” said you shouldn’t put a child back in diapers once you’ve begun potty training, so I had to choose to either stay home from church with him and continue our efforts or put him in a pull-up and go to church. We chose to honor God and took a sabbath rest from potty training, praying for God to give us wisdom and insight.
On Monday morning, I woke up to a full rundown from the Lord on why all the methods I’d tried had failed. God opened my eyes to see how they clashed with the way my boy was created. Of course, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but the the Holy Spirit instructed me as clearly as any book or magazine as to what I was to do. God pointed out that my son was – and still is – very scheduled when it comes to eating, sleeping, and bowel movements. His instruction was the same as it was when my son was a baby: step back and observe his needs, look at his natural schedule, and adjust your methods to fit it. So that’s what I did. I starting putting him on the toilet every few hours and simply took note of when he had to go. I let him wear a pull-up because he was very upset by wet underwear and was capable of going in the toilet. After just a few days of observation, I figured out how often I needed to take him to the bathroom. Soon, he began to go on his own. He was completely trained in less than 2 weeks with no tears or upset. Please understand, this is not a post on how to potty train, but simply an example of how much easier it is to parent when we seek God’s wisdom for how to meet the unique needs of our children. Potty-training with my daughter was completely different and took a long time, but God gave me wisdom (and patience, mostly) for her too. Parenting books and magazines can be helpful tools, but only if we have the discernment to know which methods fit our kids.
The Elementary Years: Becoming a Student of My Child
Halfway through second grade we sensed God urging us to pull our son out of public school and begin the adventure of homeschooling. Even though the traditional public school method of education clashed with his personality and learning style, I still made the common rookie mistake of trying to duplicate it at home with a desk, workbooks, and a set time for each subject. This only made us more miserable. As my husband and I prayed for wisdom, we received the same instructions we did when he was a baby: look at how he was created and adjust our methods to work with him rather than against him. Once again, I had to become a student of my child before I could teach him.
- I noticed that he does not do well when timed (both reading and math drills are timed in the public school system), and becomes frantic and angry when he feels under pressure.
- I noticed that when I let him choose where to work, he prefers to sit on the floor or use a lap desk and sit in the rocking chair instead of at a table.
- The most important truth God revealed is that my son cannot be forced to do an assignment he doesn’t want to do (which doesn’t mean we don’t have boundaries and expectations for proper behavior, but when it comes to schoolwork he will do what he sees value in doing). This is why his teachers were always stumped by how to motivate him. What worked one day wouldn’t work the next because rewards always had to get bigger and threats of punishment had to escalate – neither extreme is acceptable to me. However inconvenient it may be, this is who he is, and no method of coercion was ever going to work with him. (I should clarify that he is not an obstinate child. When he avoided an assignment, it was not out of defiance, but rather disinterest. He does not have ADHD, and is capable of spending hours reading a book or completing a project of interest to him – it just has to be of interest to him!)
I mentioned in another post that God eventually led us to the “Thomas Jefferson Education” or “Leadership Education” approach (so named because it is how our country’s founders, like Thomas Jefferson, were educated). My son is currently in the “Love of Learning” phase, when kids are encouraged to pursue areas of interest to them. So instead of pushing and pulling to get him to learn what an “expert” decided all third graders should learn, in the way that is suitable for a classroom of 30 kids, I’m able to provide him with an educationally rich environment and fan the flames whenever I see a spark of interest. He’s internally motivated to learn because he’s allowed to pursue his interests which, surprisingly, are varied enough to cover most of the typical third grade curriculum without much prompting from me.
Looking back at God’s instructions from the time my son was a baby, it makes sense now that God was preparing me to approach parenting and educating as a mentor who inspires and leads by example. By following God’s instructions to observe my son and adapt my methods to work with him, we have found a joy in our home that I would have never thought possible. Both my kids are now homeschooled, and they love to learn – even math (which used to be dreaded) is tackled with enthusiasm! Of course, homeschooling is not for everyone, and I think public school is fine for many kids. Just like there’s no one-size-fits-all method for potty-training, there’s no one-size-fits-all method for education, either. But that’s why we continue at each stage of parenting to heed the advice in Proverbs to “call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding.” God is faithful to answer, and he knows what is best for our kids!
If you’d like to join me in reading through the book of Proverbs, as well as the entire New Testament this year, the daily Bible reading schedule is always available on the Faith tab above. The Bible is the best parenting book I know because my kids will do what they see me do. So my best hope of raising godly children is to seek the character of Christ myself.