Parental Duties–Have an Imagination!

February 18, 2012


With our oldest being 2 months shy of his fifth birthday, a middle child who is every inch a three year old and a babe who turns one next week, I think I can say we are still a bit green when it comes to parenting. This is why when our very wise pastor from our TEDS days recommended J. C Ryle’s The Duties of Parents, we devoted some time each Sunday evening to pour over the 17 duties Ryle (himself a wise pastor) lays out for all parents. His first duty and the one I most often quote to myself is to “train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience.”

A few gems from his explanation of that first duty:

“Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys,–these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily,–these are the clues you must follow if you would find the way to his heart.”

“They must be wooed with kindness, if their attention is ever to be won.”

“We must not expect all things at once. We must remember what children are, and teach them as they are able to bear.”

“It is a dangerous thing to make your child afraid of you. Anything is almost better than reserve and constraint between your child and yourself; and this will come in with fear. Fear puts an end to openness of manner;–fear leads to concealment;–fear sows the seed of much hypocrisy, and leads to many a lie.”

We moms who did not pursue early childhood development, elementary ed., child psych or any of the other infant, toddler, or child-related degrees in college are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to these early years of parenting. (or maybe just this mama.) I can not overstate how surprised I was at the rich emotional, imaginative, and rational thought processes of each of my children. Seriously, I just never considered how complex the child psyche is. I am learning that though they are little people, they are just as unpredictable, capricious, opinionated, and complex as their big people counterparts. And sadly, I am sometimes slow to listen to them, quick to assume evil about them, and quick to discipline without “enter[ing] into their childish troubles” and probing deep enough to fully understand their behavior.  So, my own summary of Ryle’s first parental duty is this: HAVE AN IMAGINATION. Try to think like your children. Attempt to understand their thought processes and their motivations. Place yourself in their shoes. Remember your childhood. Ask many, many questions. Get them talking. Let them know you love them and want to treat them fairly and graciously. Help them understand that you will give them an opportunity to explain themselves. I am generally rewarded with candor and honesty when I take the time to do these things. And how often just taking those moments to ask questions and get them talking creates a hospitable environment for the Holy Spirit to do his work of conviction of sin and judgment. I’ve seen the realization of guilt cross their little faces. I’ve seen true sorrow over sin and it is a lovely thing. And how open they are to the gospel when they recognize their sin but know that their parents identify with their weaknesses and are showing them what they need to escape certain condemnation. I’ve actually had a child thank me for his time outs. Those are the discipline sessions that further develop that bond of love and trust between parent and child. And those are the discipline sessions where I leave in tears of gratitude that I am seeing signs or repentance in my children and that God is using me to disciple them. But this is no easy task. And I often blame time constraints for this type of discipline session being the exception and not the norm.

And how do I develop my imagination and begin to sympathize with their childish frustrations and delights? I am learning that one of the best ways to do this is simply to play with them. Oh, we read, we color, we play card games, we work on schoolish projects, we clean up together, we bake together, we walk out doors together, but when I set aside time to actually PLAY with them on THEIR terms (think bizarre made up games called things like tup ‘n pup, jelly ball, and rolling toes!) I am quickly rewarded with much affection and self-revelation. So when I wrestle those little hooligans to the ground (and inevitably get injured in the process), don rain boots and jump through mud puddles or even hop through the house like a kangaroo because one of my kids cast a spell on me, I cant help but think I am winning their hearts, and when I speak the harder truths to them, perhaps they will listen.

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