Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thoughtful Parenting


Recently I read Henry Clay Trumbull's Hints on Child Training {which you can read, totally for free via Google Books- just click on the link!}. H.C. Trumbull was Elisabeth Elliot's great-grandfather, and he comes highly recommended by Clay and Sally Clarkson.

The first thing that you should know is that the book is 126 years old. Sometimes I thought a word meant one thing until I read it in context and realized it meant something entirely different in 1890. Which was good and mind stretching. It's just something to be aware of.

Trumbull really made me think. The way he worded things at times confused me- is he really saying this, or does he mean that? Do I agree with him on this? Why or why not? I found myself doing some mental gymnastics... which is never a bad thing. He also made me think about aspects of child training I'd never previously considered {amusements before the era of screens? fascinating. the sorrows of children, the imaginations of children, etc.}.

Mostly, this book encouraged me to be a deeper thinker when it comes to parenting the little souls God has entrusted to me. The issues are complex, and every child is unique. Mothering requires a whole lot of thoughtfulness; wisdom and patience to slow down and think things through. Which can be hard when you are busy busy busy and short on sleep. Still, a worthwhile pursuit!

It's good to be a thoughtful parent! I want to be a thoughtful parent. This is going to be a book I come back to, take notes from, and continue to think through. In the spirit of thoughtfulness, here are the big ideas that have been influencing me in my interactions with my children since finishing Hints:


1. Be extra sweet and patient at bedtime. What is it about bedtime? Children are extra cranky, more likely to misbehave, or just to ask 8,000 times to go to the bathroom, have more water, etc. Parents aren't any better! We are exhausted, eager to be done with child related responsibilities, anxious to just plop on the couch and relax.

But the condition of a child's heart as they drift off to sleep is important. Their dreams and their feelings upon waking the next morning can be drastically effected by our treatment of them the night before. Were we patient, kind, and tender? Or irritable, rude, even harsh?

I've been biting my tongue more, taking lots of deep breaths, and trying to be extra patient and extra kind as I tuck my kids in at night. Even though it takes way longer than I want it to at the end of a long day. I'm still trying to be firm- "one cup of water is plenty before bed," or "you've taken care of all your bathroom needs already, so I don't believe you really need to get up again," for example. But I'm trying to keep a level and loving tone instead of losing my temper.

2. Consider carefully before answering. When I first saw there was a chapter about "teasing," I assumed it was about teaching your child not to torment other children. Not even close! Apparently "teasing" is to pester a parent for a "yes" after they've already said "no". If your children do this {mine do all the time} it's a good indicator that your "no" doesn't mean "no". Kids ask again and again because they know you sometimes {often? frequently?} change your mind.

A parent whose "no" is meaningless is an undisciplined parent. They answer carelessly, without thinking {guilty}. Instead of carefully thinking through the issue, asking appropriate questions, and understanding what their child wants and why they want it, they blurt out whatever comes into their head {guilty again}.

Oftentimes I throw my kids a "no" because I don't feel like making "yes" happen, misjudge their motives in wanting something, or don't necessarily see the positives in what they are asking. When I take a minute to consider, I frequently find the request to be a reasonable one.

I want my kids to know that I only say what I mean, whether it's yes or no. That means I need to develop discipline in thoughtful speech! I'm trying to remember to pause and think through their questions. I'm also trying to stick by my guns and not change my mind once I've given them an answer. They still "tease" me a lot... but this bad habit has been ingrained in them, and it's going to take time and diligent consistency on my part for them to see that things are different now.

3. Take real joy in what brings my children joy. One of the greatest ways to earn relationship credit with my kids is to sympathize with them. To enter genuinely into their joys, interests, and sorrows. If my daughter is super excited about her play dough creation and wants to tell me all about it, and I listen with disinterest or blow her off, I've showed her that what matters to her doesn't matter to me.

If my son has scraped his knee and I unsympathetically tell him to get up and shake it off, or if I tune out his cries, he knows that mom isn't the one to come to with his troubles. Not the message I want either of my children picking up!

Instead I want to earnestly look them in the eyes, listen, and communicate sympathetic understanding. Through sympathetic actions I want to communicate to them that I love what they love {even if its only because they love it}, I'm saddened by what saddens them, and I want to walk with them through whatever it is they are experiencing.

4. Train my children to consider others first. Usually before and during a play date I tell my kids to share and be kind. But Trumbull urges parents to go further; pour concerted effort into training them to always consider others first {it's a Biblical concept; check out Philippians 2} and as more important than themselves.

He recommends teaching your children to always ask his friends what they want to do first, and to generously go with the friend's inclination even if it's not their personal favorite game. He then says that you need to check in with your kids after interactions and see how they did, commending considerate behavior and gently correcting whatever is inconsiderate.

This takes a lot of time, and is no easy task! My kids are selfish sinners just like I am. Thinking in a Christ-like way is an impossible task in our own strength. But by the grace of God I want to encourage my children in this direction. Instead of being self-serving, I want them to servant others.

5. Make it as easy as possible for my children to choose obedience. The goal in our training is of course, obedience. We want our children to obey us so that they know how to obey God and other authorities. We want our children to obey us so they can be safe, healthy, and happy. We believe obedience is the path to blessing.

There are methods of asking for obedience that encourage it, and methods that encourage rebellion.
Honey catches more flies than vinegar. If I am kind, patient, and lovingly firm, I make it easier for my children to obey me. If I am distracted, impatient, or overly authoritarian, their sinful hearts will naturally buck up and rebel against that. I want my kids to want to obey me! When they disobey, I need to discern if they are rebelling against the command, or against my method of deploying it.

I'm trying to thoughtfully word my commands, and to only make commands when they are worthwhile and necessary. When I feel a metaphorical butting of heads between me and a child, I want it to be a check in my spirit- is this clash a result of my child's sinful willfulness, or my sinful methods {bossiness, scolding, barking orders}?


Five years into this parenting gig, I've developed plenty of bad habits that are hard to shake- for both me and my children. Thanks to this book and the Holy Spirit's help, I'm trying to be more thoughtful in the ways I interact with my kids. It's a work in progress, for sure.

I'm working my way through one parenting book each month, in order to finish my list of 12 parenting books I'd like to read this year. So far I've read Withhold Not CorrectionThe Faithful Parent, and The Mission of Motherhood.

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