I remember about six years ago I went to a women’s fellowship at our church and someone spoke on the topic of loving others. There was one specific thing that has stuck with me every day since then. If we are to be unified we need to make sure to love others by always assuming the best about them, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and never questioning their motives. This was not easy for me. I have always been skeptical of others and imagined what others thought about me (which led to great amounts of insecurity). Instead, we should focus on our identity in Christ and whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil 4:8-9).
I have been trying to put this into practice and it has dramatically changed my relationships with others, but I've noticed one thing recently, I’m not yet in the habit of this with my children.
Let me be the first to point out that Addilyn is stubborn (and she definitely gets that from me). She likes to make decisions and she likes to be in control. Although these traits can be used in a positive way, it is very hard for a 3 year old to understand appropriate boundaries. For a few months now we have been trying to foster a since of independence (and problem solving) but also helping her to understand that she is not the boss, she needs to ask for help, she must still submit to authority, and she will not always get her way. Great lessons for a 3 year old. Great lessons for us all. However, in my pursuit to teach her this, I noticed that I don’t give her the benefit of the doubt. I often assume her persistence in something I would not typically approve of is simply defiance.
I’ve told my husband on numerous occasions to pay close attention to Addi when she is playing or completing a task. Many times if she is doing something that seems silly or inappropriate to us, she usually has a pretty good reason for it. For example, the other day, Addi was moving a dining room chair across the kitchen floor and into the living room. I asked her why she was moving the chair and she responded, “I need to.” I followed with, “Why do you need to?” And her response was, “I just do.” Now, normally I would keep at this and ask a few more questions or just tell her to stop and return the chair to its proper place. However, I was distracted with a mess Josiah was making and let her continue with what she was doing. While taking care of Josiah I noticed he had a poopy diaper. I stood up and turned around to go get a diaper and there was Addi, standing there and smiling (with a diaper and wipes in hand) and said, “Mommy, I help you change Siah?” She had finished moving the chair, so she could stand on it to reach the diaper bag (hanging at the top of the coat rack), so that she could bring me a diaper and wipes because she knew that her brother had a poopy diaper and she wanted to be helpful to her Mommy. *Sigh
She could not communicate all of that as clearly or in as much depth as I would have…because she just turned three years old. Three. I am 27 years older than her. Why on earth do I expect her to act like me and know how to communicate like a 30 year old?
Now, I don’t want to use this as a means to justify sinful actions, but just to remind myself of her age and her capabilities. I also think it is good to challenge your kids and push them to become better in areas. So, for example, continuing to have the dialog so that she can learn to articulate her plan. I pray that God will give me the patience to listen to her form a thought, and maybe stutter through it, or repeat things that don’t make sense. Either way, this can be a way I can love her and promote peace and unity in our home.
Just for kicks, I wanted to share with you several other examples all from the same exact day.
Every morning the first thing we do when Addi wakes up is take off her pull up and put on her panties. This particular morning however, we got into an argument because she didn’t want to put on panties.
“Addi, please go take off your pull up and put on panties.”
“Mommy, I have panties but I need a pull up.”
“No, hun, you are not a baby, you are a big girl. You don’t need a pull up. Go put on your panties.”
“I HAVVVVVVE panties!” (Accompanied by crocodile tears).
“Addi, I know you are upset, but you need to listen and obey mommy. Go get your panties right now.”
She walked away crying and I heard her dresser drawer in her room open and close so I assumed she was changing. I went to get Josiah out of his crib and noticed the poor thing had a blow out. After changing him, I returned to their bedroom to remove Josiah’s sheets. I figured if I was going to wash his sheets, I would go ahead and change Addis sheets too. Her sippy cup was lying on her bed and had evidently been dripping for a while creating a huge wet spot. “This is the exact reason we don’t allow cups in the bedroom,” I thought, becoming angrier at her disobedience. About 20 minutes later I found her panties I had asked her to put on lying in the floor. I called her in the room to speak to me. Fighting to maintain a calm tone of voice, I said,
“Addi I told you to put on your panties. “
“Mommy, I have panties.”
“No Addi. You panties are right here.” I held them up to show her. “Here let mommy help you.”
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. All the dots were starting to connect. I had a flood of understanding the second I touched her. She DID have panties! She had slept in them all night and was soaked clean through!
The night before was our small group night. She was supposed to be in childcare. We had put her in pajamas but planned for her to play and then get into a pull up before actual bedtime. However, she and her brother had few meltdowns, which made Josh and I to decide to put her and Josiah to bed early. I forgot to put her in a pull up. She tried telling me, but I did not listen! I assumed the worst about her. I did not give her the benefit of the doubt. She had a reason for saying and doing what she did, but I was not paying attention.
The rest of the day I was much more attentive to this. Especially when she kept asking me to carry her around the house. I could not figure out why she was acting so needy but through a series of questions I discovered she had a cut on the bottom of her foot and she didn’t want to walk because it hurt.
After naptime Addi was continually begging for snacks. She had already had two and I could not figure out why she was so hungry. Eventually, it came out that Josiah stole her peanut butter and jelly sandwich from her plate and she had not actually eaten her lunch like I thought.
Later that evening, bath time shed light on another example. Addilyn will, on occasion, throw a huge tantrum about not wanting to take a bath. That evening was no exception. Through many tears, she told me, “It hurts my hair.” By the grace of God through the lesson I was learning I was able to translate that to “ I don’t want to take a bath because I know we will wash my hair. And, since I have tons of curls that get tangled easily, it hurts when we have to brush it out.”
I share all of this with you to encourage you to take a moment. Listen to your child. Ask questions and assume that there is a reason they are acting the way they are. If we can apply the same principle to our children that we do other relationships we can show them grace, love, and mercy and ultimately show them a picture of Christ.