“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
I needed to clean the bathrooms yesterday. What I did instead was run errands and then work on a craft my daughter had been wanting to try. She had been asking for the past several days, and I had asked her to wait until I could get the supplies we needed, which was why we went on the errands yesterday morning. She had been so patient, I just didn’t think I should put her off again. So, we tried to make this cute little dolphin craft thing she saw in her Highlights magazine. My daughter was blessed with a not-very-crafty person for a mother. Let’s be honest, I actually would rather clean bathrooms than to do crafts from Highlights magazine. There’s a reason I avoid the Pinterest website like it’s a zombie infected wasteland.
Our effort resulted in a rather pathetic end-product, but a satisfied seven-year-old because her mom sat down and spent the time with her and tried it, and we had fun together and made a good memory. That was time well-spent, even if the bathrooms had to wait another day. For a little perspective, those bathrooms get cleaned, on average, twice a week at least, so it’s not like we were teetering on the edge of toxicity yesterday or anything.
I read this blog post from Ligonier Ministries yesterday about some parenting dangers to avoid, and I appreciate it. I want to be ever mindful of gospel-centered thinking in our home, and to remember that more than anything we need to be modeling grace for our children and pointing them to Jesus. I’ve been thinking some about what it means to frustrate, exasperate, or provoke our children to anger. I know the specific instruction is to fathers, but I believe it is for both parents to heed because we are complementary partners in the calling of parenthood. My husband bears the responsibility as the head of our home, and I have a calling to love my husband and children and therefore not exasperate my kids either. In the situation we find ourselves for the next year, my husband is away a lot for work, and he trusts me to keep the day-to-day things running smoothly at home so he can do the work he does to provide for our family. One way I honor him and live as the helpmate I’m called to be is to join with him in raising the children in the nurture and training of the Lord, and an important part of that is learning what it means not to exasperate and frustrate them wrongly.
I’ve noticed that one way I am prone to exasperating my kids is in being always busy (or worse, not so much busy but not wanting to be bothered, and I hate admitting that) and telling them, “Wait,” “Not now,” “Later,” when often putting them off with later ends up being ‘never’ if I’m not careful. Don’t get me wrong, my kids need to learn to wait, and they need to learn that it’s not all about them and I don’t exist to answer their every whim at the moment they want it done. There’s a balance to life in the family. We are the parents, and the kids do not run the home. They do need to learn to wait and not demand things of us. But always being put off by a busy mom who doesn’t value their interests can exasperate them, too, if they are made to feel unimportant or that they don’t matter. I’m also not saying we don’t ever need to ask them to wait while we get the necessary chores done. Kids need a clean and sanitary home, too. If I don’t eventually get those bathrooms clean, I’ll be exasperating them in another way. Keep it in perspective here, as I said before, it’s not like we were filthy, just needing to be done soon. Sometimes the everyday chore here and there can be put off for a bit to make room for time spent to love a child who needs it.
Teaching the kids to wait is another side of that balance. I think another way to exasperate a child is to never have order or discipline - flying by the seat of our pants, lack of order in the home, bathrooms that are never cleaned, rooms that are constantly chaotic, jumping whenever the kid whines and never training them to respect others will also exasperate them and everyone else who spends time with them. It’s good to teach kids that we do our work first, then play. I just have a hard time remembering to stop and play sometimes. Do kids need to be told to wait and to learn that sometimes we must get our things done first? Of course they do. But here’s an example from my own life. I may spend most of the day putting my daughter off so I can get done what I need to, then, finally, after I’ve pushed it pretty far into the evening finally sit down and start to read to her when the phone rings. And it’s someone I really need to talk to, so I ask her again to wait. And by then, she’s frustrated. The person on the other end of the phone hears a whiny kid who doesn’t want her mom on the phone at that moment. I feel guilty because I’ve put her off all day, and just when I was ready to finally say, “Yes,” rather than, “Wait,” I’m telling her to wait again. So, I understand the frustration. Not that it excuses the whining, but I can’t say I don’t bear some of the blame, either. If I’m ALWAYS too busy, then, well, I’m too busy. Some things can wait.
So, I’m not advocating letting the chores go and letting the children set the agenda. I’m also reminding myself that I need to watch how often I’m putting the kids off for things that I could maybe rearrange and do after what they need from me. Kids need order, and they need parents to be PARENTS, and sometimes that does mean they must wait. And for my part, I need to balance how that looks on a day-to-day basis, letting them know I love them and value them and want to spend real time with them, even if that means doing a craft I don’t enjoy or talking Legos with a boy who really likes Legos or explaining politics to a kid who has lots of questions when all I want to do is sit down and read a book and not think about solving the problems of the world.
And, honestly,the actual chores that need to be done end up taking a lot shorter time in this new place now that we’ve downsized - I can clean the bathrooms and vacuum the whole place in about 1 1/2 - 2 hours, tops. Especially if I put the three kids to work and we all do our part.
And as for those bathrooms? Got ‘em done this morning.