love is learned

This is another guest post from my insightful wife and parenting partner, Bethany… 

You know those days?…

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Those days when every question is a whine, every sibling encounter leads to sobs and snot and tears, and everyone is screaming but no one is listening?

Yesterday was one of those days.
As a stay at home mom of three kids under the age of 5, these moments happen more often than I’d like to admit. But, when we have several consecutive days of sickness and bad weather it seems to create a perfect storm of stuck-in-the-house misery.

It was day three. Day three is never a good day. So much time with the same people in the same place usually leads to complaining, anger, tears, screaming, pushing, hitting, scratching and biting.

Yesterday started out no different than any other miserable third day at home. Judah was fighting with Kylan who was angry at Judah for something that Judah was doing that was making him want to hurt Judah who wanted to take something that Kylan wouldn’t give him…or something like that. All I heard was screaming and crying for the 100th time that morning and then Sariya decided to join in for no apparent reason.

I felt anger bubbling inside of me like a pot about to boil over. This was ridiculous! Why couldn’t they just find something do do other than fight?! I had had enough! But, before the pot boiled over, I felt a sudden catch in my spirit.

Wait. Breathe. Teach.

And it was like the boiling pot was removed from the stove and the waters of my soul suddenly went still. In that beautiful moment, God gave me eyes to see beneath the surface.

I saw that my children were as caught up in their own misery as I was. All the screaming was making us scream. We weren’t listening because we were trying so hard to make everyone else listen. We were so angry about the cruelty of others that it was making us cruel. Selfishness and self-focus had won.

Love.

So, I got down on the floor, eye level with my children, and asked them to make some agreements with me. My sudden gentleness and change in attitude made Sariya stop crying and stare. Both boys got quiet and Kylan tuned in.

Judah, who apparently studies Stanislavski in his free time, dramatically turned his back and rolled his eyes. I gently (this gentleness was a deliberate, counterintuitive choice) held his arm to prevent him from walking away and started talking as if all three children were listening to me, because I knew that even my little rebel knew something important was about to go down.

I had asked them to make agreements with me, but I had no idea where I was going with all of this, so I trusted that the Spirit would lead me and started with the first thing that came to mind. Patience. Love is patient. I knew that my kids were not being patient with each other. No one was listening or understanding the needs of others. But more than that, patience came to mind because I was not being patient with them. So I asked if we could agree to be patient for the rest of the day, and then we shook on it. Even one year old Sariya and grumpy Judah shook my hand. It was a small miracle.

After a few more suggestions and a lot of hand shaking, everyone was smiling. Another small miracle. We made a list of our agreements to post on the refrigerator and read over it a few times. When it was all said and done, we had agreed to be-

patient,
kind,
to speak nicely,
and to forgive.

Not an exhaustive list, but a pretty good start for one day. I’ll admit to a bit of plagiarism from 1 Corinthians 13.

I recently realized that one of my biggest failures as a parent is in patiently teaching my children how to love. Don’t misunderstand me here…love is very important in this family. We are constantly reminding our kids to love others. We tell them how important it is. We try to model what love looks like. We punish them when they are unloving. We even express how disappointed we are when they make hurtful choices. But I rarely acknowledge the fact that I have two 4 year old boys and a 1 year old girl who need a lot of patient, grace-filled coaching in order to learn how to truly love their neighbor/family/friend as themselves.

Kids need to be taught the details of love…all the little elements and choices that go into it. It doesn’t come naturally. Love must be learned.

They need to be taught how to notice the needs and feelings of others. I have met a few special children who are naturally sensitive to the feelings of others, who are drawn to help the hurting kid, who cry softly when Frosty melts. But these intuitive, naturally caring children are one in a million. It does not come naturally for most kids. Most kids will happily join the pack, giggling hysterically, oblivious to the fact that the child they are chasing is not screaming with joy, but with fear. Empathy has to be taught.

And if the only thing my children experience is punishment when they fail to succeed at something they don’t yet understand, they will never ever learn it. And I want them to learn it. I need them to learn it. The world needs them to learn it.

“Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is LOVE.”
-1 Cor. 13:13

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2 thoughts on “love is learned

  1. Court and I had one of those weekends, so these words are timely and comforting. Most of all, these words are true……I am guilty of the same and so the work continues.

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