by Susan Yates One day a good friend called and said, “Can I
drop by for a visit?” “Sure,” I replied, “but you’ll have to sit on the floor in the bathroom with me because I’m trying to potty train the twins.”
For several years I felt I was majoring in wiping bottoms or tying shoes. The girls would get so excited when they actually went in the potty that they brought it to me wherever I was to show me. They weren’t the least bit bashful about greeting neighbors with their bare bottoms and latest achievements.
Toddler years are the most trying and the most precious. They have so much energy. When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask God why He gave small children so much energy and parents not enough. I’m also going to ask Him why boys love to wrestle all the time. My boys came into this world wrestling. As toddlers they turned our home into a training camp! Their energy knew no bounds. At ten and twelve, they still love to wrestle, and now they have a regular round robin with their seven-year-old sisters after dinner each night. It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in most boys that I still fail to understand.
During the toddler years we experience three unique challenges: the challenge of teaching obedience, the challenge of harnessing energy, and the challenge of maintaining control.
The battle of the wills is in full force during the ages of two and three. It is the season of the child’s attempt to determine who is in control. Training the toddler to obey is an exhausting, often unrewarding challenge.
My husband asked, “Honey, what did you do today?” I replied, “I disciplined toddlers all day.” At times we feel we deserve the title “meanest mom in town”! While teaching obedience is not fun, it is necessary during this season. As the small children learn to obey their parents they are not only being prepared for living in the world, but they are also being taught the principles that will help them learn to obey their Heavenly Father.
Hand-in-hand with this challenge of obedience is the challenge of harnessing the incredible energy that these toddlers have. Children don’t learn to walk, they learn to run. They are like bowling balls loose on paths of destruction. The season of toddlers is not a good time to decide to redecorate your house! Once when the twins were two-and-a-half, they went through the house and unscrewed and removed all the lamp switches. We never found them and had to take every lamp to the shop. During cold winter months it takes real creativity to know what to do with that energy. I often would pack the kids into the car and head to the closest mall to ride the “moving steps” (escalators) for half an hour. It was a small break in the long day and helped to unleash some of the energy.
Toddlers make mothers feel they have lost control of their families. They give orders like generals! They are unpredictable, and they constantly interrupt plans. The do-er mom who awakes in the morning with a mental list of what she hopes to accomplish during the day had better lower her expectations because she’s in for disappointment otherwise. Toddlers demand a great deal of flexibility on the part of their mothers. One time, a do-er mother of three toddlers who had been totality frustrated suddenly appeared to exhibit more of a sense of peace in her life. When asked by her friends what “miracle” had taken place, she simply said, “I lowered my expectations for each day!”
Although we certainly struggle to maintain obedience, energy, and control, we also have the special opportunity to enjoy the uniqueness of this season. Whereas small infants represent a season of wonder, toddlers represent a season of discovery. A toddler’s curiosity is never satisfied, and it can get her into all sorts of trouble. Once I found Libby on top of the kitchen table eating sugar from the sugar dish. When that ran out she simply continued with the salt thinking it was the same. Her gagging, spitting, and screaming brought the rest of the family hurrying to the scene of the crime where we had a hard time trying to comfort her instead of laughing at her!
It is during this season of discovery that we moms are reminded to be observers ourselves. We will enjoy this season much more as we observe what our children do and what they say. They will say and do the funniest things; and once they’ve left this season these humorous things will never be repeated. As we observe, it’s fun to write down some of the cute things children say.
At her first view of the ocean, Libby said, “It’s too full, Mommy. I think we ought to let some of it out.” When asked what Superman does, Chris responded, “He flies in the sky talking to Jesus and God.”
I would not have remembered these moments if I had not quickly written them down. These quotes will become special to us as our children grow up. Also, as the children grow they love to hear us tell them the things they used to say or do when they were younger. It’s a treat to record these “sayings and doings” in a child’s book or mother’s journal and pull it out to share on each child’s birthday. Taking pictures of ridiculous happenings also helps us to be observers and therefore enjoy this season. Photograph the crazy things, the dress-up parties, the meal fights, not just the Sunday specials. These pictures will become treasures and bring to mind forgotten incidents.
Hank Ketcham, who is the cartoonist for “Dennis the Menace,” is a great observer of children. His cartoons are so funny because they are derived from ordinary humorous things that children say and do. One of my favorites is a picture of Dennis angrily going upstairs to his room, turning to his amazed mother and saying, “How come I have to take a nap when YOU’RE the one who’s tired?”
We may not be cartoonists, but we could do research for Ketcham as we learn to observe. The season goes by too fast and it’s too easy to look back and wish we’d taken more time to enjoy it. When you’re in the midst of diapers and crying babies you think it’ll never end; but when they go to school, you’ll wonder in amazement at how fast the time went.
Excerpted from And Then I Had Kids by Susan Alexander Yates. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright © 2002. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.” Visit Baker Books.
ARTICLE FROM FAMILY LIFE TODAY
I know, I wouldn’t choose the Bible either. It’s not that I don’t love the Word of God; I do. It’s not that I don’t know beyond all knowing that it’s life for me and my children, more important than virtually anything else that could fill our days.It’s just that, amidst the never-ending, here-and-now demands of life with little people, it can so easily slip quietly out of our days. It shouldn’t be that way, but sometimes (let’s be honest) it is.
Life events happen – the arrival of a new baby, kicking off a new schedule for older children, a family vacation. A solid Bible-reading groove can so easily give way, for one reason or another, to a dry season where the Book is shelved for weeks before I even realize it.
There’s more than one way to bring the Bible back into the center, and it doesn’t have to be a hard or time-intensive process. Realizing this has hugely helped me get back on track when I find we’ve fallen out of the groove.
Here are five ideas to simply and quickly get back into daily Bible engagement with little kids:
1. Take 5 minutes at breakfast or dinner to read aloud from a children’s Bible or do a page together out of a children’s devotional. During or right after meals works well for us, because we’re all already gathered in one place and actively occupied with an activity that cuts down on squabble. We’re currently alternating between the Big Picture Story Bible (which works very well for our 2 through 6 crowd) and My ABC Bible verses: Hiding God’s Word in Little Hearts. More fantastic resource suggestions for the young crowd are listed in Christin’s Devotions for Ages Five and Under.
2. Listen to an audio version of a children’s Bible in the car. The Jesus Storybook Bible comes with a CD with fantastic audio presentation of the text. I keep it in the car, and we sometimes listen to one or two tracks while driving and then discuss the passage afterwards.
3. Learn one song from a Seeds Family Worship album per month. The Seeds albums are great because the songs lyrics are unadulterated Bible verses – nothing else. Once you know the words to a song, you know a new Bible verse. And the tunes are catchy and not annoying.
4. Use Bible verse coloring pages for coloring-time. My kids love to color, and occupying the younger ones while the older does school work is mandatory. Printing coloring pages that feature Bible verses is practical and can be a jumping off point for discussion about the Scriptures. Colored pictures can be hung on the wall or fridge for ongoing reference, till a new page gets colored.
5. Incorporate a few theme-related verses into your daily household activities and chores like “clothe yourself with Christ” (Rom 13:14) when dressing for the day, or “create in me a clean heart” (Ps 51:10) when tidying up a room. We haven’t done this yet, but it’s a cool idea and one that, with a just a little forethought and intentionality, could be a cool trigger and mental practice for mother and child alike.
It’s crucial for us moms to be in God’s word ourselves, drinking from the well of Life so that we can abide in Him as we walk through days that can be wearying with our little ones. But it’s also crucial that we’re bringing our children back to the well, acquainting them with how to draw the water and accustoming them to its taste.
May all of us, mothers and kids alike – drink often and deeply.
Susan Arico is mother to four children, ages 6 and under. She writes for Christianity Today on women’s issues and consults on a very part-time basis to Christian nonprofit organizations. She is passionate about the importance of shaping children’s souls in a Christ-ward direction and blogs at Christian Mothering.
These are some of the chapters I found to be most beneficial from the book: (every chapter is a great resource, these are the ones which really stuck out to me)
–The Fathers Role (Chapter 4)
–The Perfect Family Syndrome (Chapter 7)
–Family Culture vs. Pop Culture (Chapter 8)
–Why Some Children Leave the Faith (Chapter 18)
I highly recommend this book for several reasons. First, it’s not water-downed. The author speaks the truth in love and challenges the reader to consider the weight of raising children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. This is unlike so many other “Christian” parenting books. Second, this book is a radical paradigm shift of thought (when it comes to Biblical parenting) to the average Christian family. The author does a wonderful job offering Biblical advice and resources which frankly aren’t discussed or considered in most Christian circles and churches. Thirdly, this book is an easy read and relatively short.
You can order the book here.
Mack Thomas, the author, clearly has a knack for engaging his audience. He has a playful way to narrate stories that works well for babies and toddlers. Each character engages your child. At the beginning the style is a bit odd, but it grows on you as you read it. In a playful way, this brings your baby right into the story.
These first four represent those of some worth. Those receiving the highest commendation are yet to come in tomorrow’s post.
V. Gilbert Beers’ retelling of the story of Christ’s death and resurrection is exemplary, explaining exactly what happened and the theological significance of the event. He also does an excellent job of making the stories connect to the larger redemptive story.
Sally Lloyd-Jones pulls no punches. She sees the Bible through a strong redemptive-historical context and she proclaims it through every story. She is a good story teller and has a nice way of bringing the drama out of each story. She also makes her characters come to life, frequently moving beyond the bounds of what scripture tells us as she re-imagines the characters.
If you’ve been a parent for any time at all, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that your child came into the world with an insatiable faculty for evil. Even before birth, your baby’s little heart was already programmed for sin and selfishness. The inclination toward depravity is such that, given free reign, every baby has the potential to become a monster.
Original sin is the biblical doctrine that explains your child’s sinful proclivity. It means children do not come into the world seeking God and righteousness. They do not even come into the world with a neutral innocence. They come into the world seeking the fulfillment of sinful and selfish desires. Scripture also teaches a doctrine called total depravity, referring to the extent of original sin. Although the outworking of the sin nature does not necessarily attain full expression in everyone’s behavior, it is nonetheless called total depravity because there is no aspect of the human personality, character, mind, emotions, or will that is free from the corruption of sin or immune to sin’s enticements.
Put bluntly, sin is not learned—it is an inbred disposition. Your kids got their sinful nature from you, you got it from your parents, your parents got it from their parents, and so on, all the way back to Adam. In other words, Adam’s fall tainted the entire human race with sin. Both the guilt and the corruption of sin are universal. The apostle Paul wrote, “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added). “Through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men” (v. 18), meaning we inherited the guilt of sin. And “through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (v. 19), meaning we inherited the corruption of sin. No one is exempt. No one is born truly innocent.
That means that left to themselves, your children will pursue a course of sin. And left entirely to themselves, there is no evil of which they are incapable. You may find that hard to swallow, especially when you see them as newborns. Infants seem to be the very epitome of chaste, precious, childlike innocence. But don’t let the cute cheeks, the playful coos, and the bright eyes fool you — those children are a miniature version of you! The depravity that lives in their hearts is just waiting for the opportunity to express itself.
So how should the doctrines of original sin and total depravity impact your parenting? Before I answer that, let me show you three parenting approaches that miss the mark.
Focus on Behavior
Many parents go off track by focusing all their efforts on controlling their child’s behavior. Be careful. If you concentrate all your energies on correcting external behavior, or staving off misbehavior with threats of discipline, you may be doing little more than training a hypocrite.
I’ve seen that happen repeatedly. I know Christian parents who think their parenting is successful because they’ve taught their children to act politely on cue, to answer with “Yes, Sir” and “No, Ma’am,” and to speak to adults when spoken to. While that kind of behavior control may appear to work wonders for a time (especially when the parents are nearby), it does not address the root problem of depravity. Sinful behavior is a symptom of a sinful heart.
Focus on Environment
Other parents try to control their child’s environment. They attempt to build a cocoon around their kids to isolate them from bad influences. They restrict their children’s exposure to television, ban popular music from the home, and sometimes forbid contact with children whose parents may not share their same parenting philosophy.
While I do think you should shield your kids from the experience of evil, you need to teach them to be wise and discerning when confronted with evil. They won’t learn those lessons if they are completely isolated. The isolationist approach merely produces naïve children who are gullible and vulnerable, defenseless in the world.
Try as you might, you won’t be able to isolate your children forever. When the day comes that they venture out into the world, they need to be prepared with discernment skills and wisdom to detect and resist the enticements of the devil and the world. If you choose to shield them from an evil environment, you are ignoring the enemy within them — a depraved heart. But if you win the heart, you win the child.
Focus on Self-Esteem
A very prevalent approach today is to build a child’s self-esteem. That method assumes that if a child sees himself as good, noble, and wonderful, he’ll not only behave better, but he will also treat others better. This method turns self-love into a virtue.
The truth is that much of the modern effort to spark kids’ self-esteem is simply pouring gasoline on a runaway fire. It encourages already selfish kids to think they are justified in wanting their own way. It makes you as a parent think you have to defer to the child, no matter what, because the child has a right to express himself freely, so he feels good about himself. All of that only escalates out-of-control behavior and feeds the worst tendencies of human depravity. Want to ensure that your child will become a delinquent? Feed his self-esteem and then compound the problem by refusing to correct him when he is wrong.
Self-esteem is based on an unbiblical perspective that denies original sin and the doctrine of total depravity. The Bible has nothing positive to say about self-esteem, self-love, or any other variety of self-centeredness. It teaches your child to deny himself, not love himself (Luke 9:23).
Focus on the Heart
There’s only one remedy for your child’s inborn depravity: the new birth—regeneration. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit… [Therefore,] you must be born again” (John 3:6-7). “Born of the flesh” with a sinful bent, your children have no power to free themselves from sin’s bondage. They lack the Holy Spirit and thus have no capacity to please God or obey Him from the heart (cf. Rom. 8:7-8). Until your children are born again, they are dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).
So your top priority as a parent is to be an evangelist in your home. You need to teach your children the law of God, show them their need for a Savior, and point them to Jesus Christ as the only One who can save them. If they grow up in your home without a keen awareness of their need for salvation, you have failed as a parent in your primary task as their spiritual leader. Teach them the gospel and ask God to perform His sovereign work of regeneration.
One word of caution about that — if you try to force, coerce, or manipulate your kids into a profession of faith, you may pressure them into making a false profession. The new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit, and your child’s salvation is a matter that must ultimately be settled between him and God.
Don’t approach parenting by focusing on the symptoms rather than the heart. If you attempt to modify your children’s behavior, isolate them, or bolster their self-esteem, you will not only exacerbate the problem, you will fail to reach to the heart of the matter. But if you teach them about their sin and need for the Savior, and if you live a life that models what you are teaching them to be, you can rest your hope in God’s grace for the salvation of your children.
Adapted from What the Bible Says About Parenting: God’s Plan for Rearing Your Child by John MacArthur.
© 2000 Grace to You.