A few days ago, I petitioned my 10 year old son to fetch something for me while I was busy in the kitchen making a meal. His first reaction to my request was a loud
Of course, my answer to that kind of back talk was
“Because I said so”, and gave him the mom look.
He immediately got up, with an apparent funky attitude, and proceeded to stomp his feet as he headed downstairs. However, before he reached the bottom of the stairwell, I called him right back up and began to lecture him on how inappropriate he was behaving, how disrespectful he was acting, and also stressed that he needed to check his body language. I told him to walk back down the stairs with more self control.
Once he was out of ear shot, my husband, who watched the entire incident unfold, rebuked me quietly.
“I understand why you are upset but you need to let him verbalize and show his frustration. It’s ok that he gets mad, as long as he does what you ask him to do, let him show his frustration. You don’t want him to hold his anger in and then when he gets older, it comes out in fits of rage.”
I looked at my husband, speechless, trying to understand this whole boy-raising thing.
Then I remembered the words of Jesus in parable of the two sons in Mathew 21:28-32
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
I soon figured out that this was not just about boy-raising but about me not trusting God.
As I thought about the first boy in the parable, it was obvious that he was initially defiant, showed outward disobedience, and he surely was not afraid to show disrespect towards his father. I’m sure the father felt hurt and anger at receiving blatant disregard. However, something changed in the heart of the boy and he eventually did whatever it was that his father wanted him to do.
On the other hand the second boy initially showed respect by immediately agreeing to do what his father was requesting, outwardly exhibiting eager obedience, and it appeared that the boy was unwavering in his compliance. Sadly, his outward actions were deceiving. It may have caused the father to falsely trust without reservation.
I realized that I want a boy that outwardly shows eager obedience with a positive upbeat attitude for whatever requests I make of him. No disrespect. No grumbling. No funky attitude. No stomping feet. Ever!
Sadly, I want that second son.
It’s a hard pill for this mom to swallow when my husband lets our son off the “happily obedient Christian child ” hook and gives my son permission to grumble, complain, stomp his feet and have a not so pleasant attitude at my requests or demands.
I humbly and painfully learned that I don’t need to lecture and redirect every single bad attitude my son exhibits. The seemingly disobedient outward actions that my son seems to default to actually gives the Holy Spirit room to invade my son’s heart and teach him.
I was expecting outward perfection out of my son, yet the Holy Spirit reminded me that I am far, far, farrrrrr from the perfect outward Christian woman. I grumble. I complain. I stomp my proverbial feet and have funky attitudes that others can clearly see. I know that it’s in these moments that the Holy Spirit shows me the mirror of my heart and I have the gift to repent of my funk and then obey to more Christ-like behavior.
I rob that from my son when I want, no demand, that he keep his anger or frustration in check. It’s wrong to feel that my son’s negative attitude is an affront to my role as his parent. Yes, he is my son, but before he is mine, he belongs to my good Father.
As parents we need to realize that our children are on loan to us during their formative years. We can dress and polish them up like shiny new pennies when they are babies. We can spend endless hours teaching them good things from the Bible when they are toddlers. We can read to them from all the best Gospel centered children’s books. We can correct and guide them into all Godly truth and then prayerfully hope it all “takes effect” when they get older.
Unfortunately once our children’s sin breaks through, and believe me, we will see it sooner rather than later, we immediately will second guess all of our parenting and, if not careful, be crushed when our kids easily turn against us and all of our Gospel centered parenting effort.
There is Hope though.
Going back to the first boy in the parable, the one with the changed heart, according to the parable the change did not come from a long-winded Gospel centered lecture from his father….or mother. There was also no reminder about obedience or grace for that matter. Whatever caused the heart change, it happened in the aftermath of blatant disrespect and outright disobedience.
Thankfully, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and my husband, that day I was reminded that ultimately God is going to teach and transform my children without any help from me. Yes, I am still obligated, directed, and mandated to teach my children in the Deuteronomy 11:19 way. However, in that teaching, training, molding, modeling, and raising up, I cannot transform my child’s heart, nor should I try to. That is God’s work and His work alone. I must give my children room to work out their own salvation and sometimes that means I have to let their outward defiance be shaped by the Holy Spirit. I must trust God enough with my children and not feel like their disobedience is an affront to my good intentioned Gospel centered parenting.
When my boy came back into the kitchen and handed me the package of spaghetti that he got from our downstairs pantry, I simply said “Thank you son” and did not address or correct his funky attitude, which I probably would have done had my husband not intervened.
My boy looked at me with a half smile and said “Your welcome Mom”. He then walked back to his Lego crane and resumed his playing.
My prayer is that as parents, who joyfully lay up God’s words in our hearts and soul, as we teach these life giving words to our children while we sit in our house, walk by the way, lie down and rise up, (Deut 11:19) we give our children the room they need to let the Holy Spirit do his work as well.
I also pray that as I learn how to do this with my children, I learn to do this with others and that others will learn to do this with me.