Friday, August 24, 2012
Boy Mamas, How to Deal
Mamas of little boys,
Have you ever wondered how in the world you would raise that defiant, rowdy little toddler of yours to become a God-fearing, respectful young man? Especially when he reveals to you just how far he still has to go. I'm not talking about the "he got 2 time outs today" kind of day. I mean the kind where he finally lays his rowdy little body in his bed and you go lie down and have a good cry with God, begging Him to intervene. That kind. I've been there, mamas. Many, many nights!
Maybe all the moms around you seem to have perfectly behaved children who would eat cold mush with a smile if handed to them by their dinner host. Children who, from a toddling age, obey their parents' near every command without challenge. And there you are- sweating it out day by day, wondering what you are possibly doing wrong with this precious boy who defies your every request. The answer may be: nothing. It is quite possible that you are doing everything to the best of your abilities, and it will be by God's grace alone that you will continue in your efforts without growing weary or faint. You may not need to do one thing differently. You may just need to persevere in your parenting pursuit.
I've only been at this parenting bit for a little over 4 years, but I've had a rambunctious, energetic, defiant, strong-willed little boy who has given me lots of experience! If there's one thing this sweet-spirited boy has caused me to do it is to cling to my Father and his strength. He has caused me to look upward for answers and called me to humble myself. Drew has made me realize that I'm so much like my son in relation to my heavenly Father. So many times our boys (and girls!) will make the exact same mistakes over and over again--within just minutes of being corrected. And while that can cause me to become short, exasperated, angry, or harsh, my heavenly Father does not deal with me that way. Praise Him. He is slow to anger, gentle, long-suffering, kind, patient, and forgiving toward me. How much more should I desire to show that to others, namely my sweet children.
With that said, here the top pieces of advice for raising little boys I've gleaned over the past 4 years:
1. Before you ingest every parenting book you can get your hands on to figure out how to deal with your little ball of defiant energy, read the one you are parented by first. I don't say that lightly so I can check it off a box to say, "Oh I listed something religious. Done!" No, seriously. You need to grasp the Father's loving, forgiving attitude toward you, in all of your imperfectness. See how he deals with you on a daily, minute-by-minute basis. Let that soak in. Notice in your day how many times you fall short of perfection and how God so gently places you back on track and says, "That's okay. Try again." Sometimes He does allow us to suffer the consequences of our decisions because He loves us. If He took all the consequences away, that would be setting us up for failure. But because He loves us, he reprimands us lovingly, not harshly, but does not hold our sins against us. Take this attitude with you into your parenting. It will keep you humble as you see yourself in your child's eyes.
2. Remember: your son is not a girl. God did not bless you with a quiet, dainty little girl. He blessed you tremendously with this wild little boy! And little boys need to be little boys. This means he'll probably be loud, rowdy, energetic, possibly aggressive, strong willed, and physically rambunctious. He'll be attracted like a strong magnet to dirt, mud, and anything that will stain that white shirt you just bought him. Your furniture will probably be a springboard for energy, and he's not going to be extremely neat when he eats. You have a boy, and that means he's going to be FUN, not prissy. Your challenge as his mom is to figure out how to shape those traits and direct those energies into acceptable behaviors and outlets. But if you constantly compare him to the little girls in his life, he will not meet your expectations, and he'll feel he's let you down. Embrace all that God put in him that made him a little boy!
3. Keep on keeping on. Galatians 6:9 reminds us, "Let's not get tired of doing what is good, for at the right time we will reap a harvest-if we do not give up." Don't slack up on the days where you're tired of reminding him of his manners for the 1000th time. Keep on (with a good attitude!) because there are eternal ramifications to what you're doing here, mama. Deep breath. You're the best one equipped for this job.
4. Respect him. If you've read Dr. Emerson Eggerichs book, "Love and Respect," then you know where I'm going with this. Men desire respect, and my feelings are that this idea is no different for our little men. If he needs to be reprimanded, do not do so in front of all of his peers where they can all hear; that is embarrassing to him and may aggravate the situation further. One thing I do not do to my children is hold their faces between my thumb and fingers. If you've ever experienced a parent do that in order to get your attention as a child, you know how humiliating it can be. If I need to touch Drew to get his attention, I try: A) Getting down on his eye level and B) Gently and lovingly placing my hands on each side of his sweet cheeks. Sometimes I even hug him while talking to him about an issue. You'll notice ways that your son feels disrespected, and I would advise avoiding those at all costs. While it is important that he understands you are in a position of authority over him, making him feel disrespected at his core is not a desirable effect, and will not benefit your relationship with him in the short or long term.
5. Gentleness, mamas. This goes hand-in-hand with respect. If your loud little boy is screaming, running, and disobeying, copying his behavior by screaming and yelling back at him and berating him for his actions is only going to make him frustrated, which will usually spiral the situation further out of control. Rebuke him firmly if need, but with gentleness. (Yes, those two can go together!) Diffuse the situation with calmness and gentleness-not harshness. Proverbs 15:1 says, "A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare." I often think of Michelle Duggar at this point. She said she sometimes gets down and whispers in their ears when she most wants to yell. Sounds crazy, but it works! And once you start practicing this gentleness technique, it will become more natural for you! (And you'll desire to use it once you see how much better it works!)
6. Listen to your heart. I've had advice given to me from both ends of the spectrum-advice that seemed to simply ignore the poor behavior to advice that seemed to border on child abuse! If something you've been told or read seems wrong to you, don't do it. The only REAL judge of you and your child is God. And he knows your heart and good intentions. Don't worry about what everyone else says or thinks. Remember that you're only trying to please an audience of One.
7. Don't set him up to fail. What do I mean by this? If you know that your child hates small spaces with lots of people, don't knowingly place him in that situation and expect perfect behavior. If he has had a rough day, behavior-wise, don't attempt to take him to eat at a 1 hour sit-down dinner that night. You know what your son's triggers are; try to avoid them when possible. Remember that he's a child, not a mature, self-controlled adult!
8. If your day has been full of time-outs, reprimands, physical discipline, and talking until you're blue in the face about the issues, and you don't know what else to do with this child, head outside. Put away everything else (your cell phone!) and just focus on him (and his siblings if he has them.) Find a fun activity that will exert energy. This will keep him occupied, deplete some of his energy stores, and hopefully give you both a rest from the stressful day. Sometimes 1:1 attention is what they're actually begging for!
9. Praise him when he excels. When he minds. When he helps you with a chore. When he uses his manners. When he goes out of his way for a sibling. Let him hear how proud that makes you and how much it pleases God when he makes good choices. Smile at him! Tell him how thankful you are that you're his mom. We have a reward system in our house. (I know some families do not believe in rewards, but it works well for us.) He gets an extra book with Daddy at bedtime if he gets all of his behavior checkmarks in a day, and after several days of great behavior, he gets a special treat (ice cream, dinner with a parent, new book, activity he loves, etc). We've seen great improvement with this system; repeated good behavior becomes a habit, and we're seeing it! (Don't neglect his heart in this matter. His eye shouldn't ONLY be on a physical reward. It's fine to have that goal in mind for youngsters, but shape his heart with prayer, scripture, and verbal encouragement as you go.)
10. Pray with him. This one should be near the top of the list! If he is having an issue with something (lying, hitting, disobeying), find a simple Bible verse on his trouble area and memorize it together. Then pray with Him about it. You may do this 100 times in a day, but it will show him that we go to God for help to become more like Him. And it will usually diffuse any anger/stress in the situation. I also love for Drew to hear me pray and thank God for him. Get specific in your thanks: "God, thank you so much for Drew and his sweet heart with his sister. For helping him share and talk nicely with her today. Please help him continue in using nice hands with her to help her, not harm her."
This may leave you feeling exhausted, as though you still have MILES to go. I'm with you! One of my favorite authors on Christian mothering is Sally Clarkson. On the days where I'm feeling overwhelmed, I refer to my favorite quote of hers which goes something like this: "Progress, not perfection. Maturity, not instant holiness." This is a PROCESS. It's not going to happen overnight!We're shaping their hearts, not creating robots.
Keep it up, mamas. What you do matters for eternity. You are shaping the hearts of future men for the Lord and THAT is important- more important than anything else you could be investing your time in. And in due time, you'll reap the harvest! Blessings, sweet friends!