I had a horrible morning. Even as I was pulling myself together at 5:45 I felt this sense of dread. “I don’t want to do this.” I did it anyway. My morning is supposed to end at 8:00 when I drive away from dropping off Big Sister at 4th grade. Today it ended at 8:30 as I dropped off Little Brother at daycare. I wasn’t the only one late: Mom and Dad were both over half an hour late to work because LB wasn’t ready to let them go. He rules the family. He had one of his worst mornings today, screaming and crying and yelling. Anytime something doesn’t go exactly as he wishes he bursts into hysterics. Sometimes the hysterics come after the fact, when he realizes it could’ve gone differently, and that he would’ve liked it. “I wanted to shut the door!” he sobs to Mom after she shuts it herself. 10 minutes later the incident is over and no one is happy, especially not LB. This morning I made his favorite breakfast of all time for him. I chose his clothes while he dozed on Daddy. I did everything I could to make him happy, to no avail. He screams and yells in my face, and sobs hysterically so that I can’t understand a word he blurts out. Finally today I had to take him in my arms, carry him to his bedroom, and force his little body still, hand over his mouth. This is all I can do, and then I speak gently and softly, kiss his head, tell him I love him and Mommy loves him and Daddy loves him. I think I made some breakthroughs this morning in how I deal with this mess. I’m hopeful.
But I got to thinking this morning, Solomon wasn’t kidding. As I put on my shoes and coat in my peaceful, dark home at 5:45 I found myself imagining, as Josh would say. Imagining for the hundredth time what joy it would be to raise my own sweet children, to spend time with them and nurture them. I chuckled at the irony. How can I expect to love being a mom so much when I spend nearly fifteen hours a week with horrible kids? Not only do I nanny, but every Wednesday afternoon I volunteer as the assistant for a graded choir program, grades 2-7. They are not all horrible kids, but only a couple of them are truly a joy to be around. How I can expect to enjoy being a mom is that I’ve read the Proverbs and I believe they’re true: foolish kids are a drain, a disgrace, a trial, a burden. Wise kids are a blessing and a joy. I have no doubt about the truth of this contrast.
So how do we arrive at wise kids? What does a kid who’s a joy to be around look like? The more I think about parenting the more I arrive at an answer I made reference to in my earlier post. There are two ingredients to Christian life:
Love for Christ
That was the earliest thing Mike & I knew we wanted for our children, even before we were married. We wanted them to grow up loving the gospel and loving the law of God. Well, the vocabulary of “love for Christ” and “virtue” seems to me one step closer to taking this whole construct apart and figuring out what it should look like every day. I think in my kids’ room or above the kitchen table or wherever they will spend their hours we are going to decorate with several simple words:
(Are there virtues I’m missing from this list? Help me flesh it out!)
The reason is, I want all of my nurturing of my kids to come back to this basic principle: As Christians we are called to be faithful and faithfulness means cultivating Christian virtue in our hearts. (In fact, I care far more that by age 10 my children have adopted these virtues for their own than that they have started learning systematic theology and the shorter catechism. That’s not the stuff that will get them through a day without a LB-style melt-down.) So the rules of our house will all relate to that basic list and discipline issues will always be discussed in those terms: “What virtue did you just fail to live out?”
This morning LB was in agony for a million reasons. The syrup had gotten on the plate, not just the pancake. The pancake got cut before the syrup was added. I didn’t put the plate in the right place. I offered him a fork when he intended to use his fingers. You can imagine the rest. He decided he wanted a drink and that it had to be in a sippy cup. He NEEDED a sippy cup. I dutifully searched high and low and found no sippy tops. Clearly this was a request I could not honor. So there he stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, wailing at me. “LB, buddy, there are no sippy cups.” “But I WANT one,” he screamed, as if that was enough to call one into existence. That’s his problem. All of life is about attaining whatever he wants, at every expense, and for the most part he’s successful. In fact, his parents seem to think giving him what he wants is what it takes to be a good parent.
I decided it was time for a virtue lesson.
“LB, Ya know what? Sometimes we can’t always have what we want. Ya know, there’s something I really really really really want. Do you know what it is?”
His eyes got big. “No…”
“I really really want a piano. But I can’t have a piano in my house. But do you see me crying and crying? ‘I want a piano!'” I imitated him alarmingly well. He was struck still by the absurdity.
“So,” I continued, having caught his attention, “When you really really want something but you just can’t have it you have to be happy anyway. Do you know what that’s called? It’s called Being Content.”
I would venture a guess that our little virtue lesson was the first time that little guy has ever heard the word “Content.” His poor three year old soul needs virtue to be happy. The only thing in his soul right now is a desire to be happy and the only way he knows how to attain that is by getting what he “wants” at any moment. How can he come up with anything better if he’s never even heard of virtue?
This is why it’s not so much his fault that he is growing up into the quintessential foolish son of Proverbs. It is the fault of his parents. As parents the only way to train wise children is to train them to walk in faithfulness: Love for Christ and Pursuit of Virtue. I’ve been reading a book called Standing on the Promises recently, which presents a Biblical philosophy of parenting: be faithful and God blesses it. It’s just what the Proverbs promise: Train up your child in wisdom and he will stick with it, and a wise son will bring joy to his parents. Simple math, but it requires parents to be diligent and obedient themselves–obedient to God as stewards in shepherding their children to faith and virtue.
I have saturated myself with Colossians 3 & 4 and Ephesians 4 & 5 enough–memorized both of them in the past two years–to have a huge, exhilirating vision of how beautiful life in community (family, church) is when virtue is esteemed and cultivated and treasured among its members. I’m so convinced of it that despite the nightmarish experiences I’m having this year with children & parents unaware even of the concept of virtue, I am giddy with excitement as I use my Christian imagination to envision this new life the Powells are beginning this spring.