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Spiritual Practice of Parenting: The Great Imitators

January 25, 2014

I watched Isaac carefully this afternoon.

“What side do I use Mommy?”  he asked.  “The rock,”  I responded.

He sat very straight and still on the little stool in our bedroom.  He carefully rubbed the pumice stone across the bottom of the his feet.  I pretended to keep reading on my bed, but all the time, I watched him slyly.  A moment later, he walked over to me smiling.

“This?”  he inquired as he held the aquaphor container out to me.

“Yes.  But me sure to just use a little bit because it is very, very greasy.”

“I know, Mommy.  I wash my hands when I done.”

He went back to his stool, sat down, and proceeded to gently rub the aquaphor over his feet.

How many times had he watched me do this, I wondered?  Once, twice, maybe five times at the most.  Yet, he knew exactly what to do, in what order, and that he needed to wash his hands when he was done.

“Feel my feet, Mommy.”

I agreed they were very soft, and he grinned proudly to himself, mostly.

IMG_1622How much he notices I thought.  Driving home from the gym this morning, he told me he was going to have a truck when he grows up, “Just like daddy.”  I realized it again as I did a little happy dance after smelling my soup simmering on the stove.  I looked at my petite mirror, doing the same silly hand moves I was, grinning from ear to ear.

Isaac is the least subtle at hiding everything he takes in.  At four and a half, he still mimics our movements and wants to be just like Mommy and Daddy. However, Madeleine at 8 isn’t all that different.  I notice her being short with her brother when he is looking for something or is bothering her.  I hear my voice, you know, that one I use after I had already told her to hang up her backpack and put away her shoes twice.  I hear it when we talk about why she doesn’t like the pledge of allegiance–I hear my own words coming out of her mouth, even though I can’t remember ever having that conversation with her.  The words are just too similar–“It seems like it’s an idol Mommy.  Why should I pledge allegiance to anything besides God?”  (There’s some of that good old Mennonite in me coming out again.)

So much of what our kids learn is through actions.  What do I want my kids to learn?

Relationships matter.  Technology does not.  It’s better to spend time interacting with people than playing computer games, iPad games, or watching TV.  It’s better to set your phone aside in the car or at supper so we can all have conversations, rather than texting or checking e-mails.  But do I really teach them that?

Treat others with gentleness.  For years, my words to one child in particular has been, “Gentleness, love.  Respond in gentleness.”  Too often she is short with others, impatient at their shortcomings, and quick to act like she is better than them.  While with others, gentleness abounds, it’s within our own family we have problems.   “Gentleness, love.  Respond with gentleness.”  Then I take a step back and listen to myself a moment.  I hear the irritation creeping into my voice and my frustration expose itself when I have asked twice for someone to set the table or get off the computer.  I am quick to lose my own gentleness with my children, forgetting the lesson I tell my daughter so many times.  “Gentleness, love.  Respond with gentleness.”  (Don’t get my wrong, I am not saying I should let me do whatever they want.  I just shouldn’t correct with *that* tone of voice which is harsh.)

You are enough.  You are loved fully.  Hugs, snuggles, tickles, are one of my children’s love language.  Nothing fixes things for him like a long tickle.  For my daughter, it’s time spent with her–not needing to do anything but talk with her like an adult.  For the third it’s the same as well, time spent with a parent playing a game or building something.  I know distinctly what my children need to know they are loved.  I work at telling them over and over that they are enough.  However, like all things, my words aren’t enough.  I see the sibling rivalry sneaking in–wanting to make sure they get the same attention and praise as the others. I see the frustration with my emerging reader that things are faster for him.  I see the despair when he doesn’t get a perfect score on something.  My daughter tells me she didn’t laugh in a movie because the friend sitting next to her wasn’t laughing.  Saying my children are enough and loved isn’t enough.  I need to teach them that what others do doesn’t matter–it is what they do that matters–whether it is the amount of chores they have, the grades the get, how fast they run or swim, and how well they behave in school.  I need to model it myself–any time I show shame about my parenting to them or my appearance or any time I put myself down as not being good enough, I am teaching them I don’t think I am enough.

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My own actions speak so much louder than my words.  My words are good, helpful reminders, but they only work as reminders if they are based off a life well-lived.  They only work if I show them that the fruits of the spirit matter–love, gentleness, kindness, patience, goodness, self-control, faith, peace, and joy.  If I practice (and when we practice–anything, we all know perfection doesn’t happen) those traits, my children are much more likely to learn them than if I only say the words over and over.

Most importantly, is treating myself with love, gentleness, patience, and kindness.  I need to show my children how I forgive myself when I mess up, instead of letting it spiral out of control.  I need to share times I failed and how I moved on.  If I can demonstrate grace to myself, it will be much easier for me to extend grace to them and allow them to accept it too.

If I want my children to grow up to be people who love, and love well, I need to honor them now.  I need to model those things that show them that they are loved–when Madeleine suggests I read a book she just read that SHE LOVED!!! I need to take the time to read it, instead of diving into one of my books right away.  When Isaac asks to play a game when it is just he and I, I need to sit down and play the game with him.  When John tells me he needs to be tickled, right now, I need to take a break and sit on the floor or the couch and tickle him until he asks me to stop.  I need to show up for my children, talk to them about what is important in their lives, and treat them like they are not an interruption to my agenda, but the most important thing I’ll do today.

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