Don’t you wish the Bible included the clause “Children, don’t exasperate your parents!” right after it says “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children”? I know I do! Just the other day, Aliyah, our almost 6 year old, was asking me one question in a million different ways. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit. If you’ve ever had a 5 year old, you know what I’m talking about! I just looked at Greg and said, “Why doesn’t the Bible say ‘Children, don’t exasperate your parents’?”
However, this can be chalked up to a “Things the Bible doesn’t say.” It’s unfortunate, isn’t it? We can’t pull this out of our hats when we just can’t answer the same question for the 20th time. And so we sigh, we might huff and puff, we might even roll our eyes as we answer, again. Then we proceed to get upset when your children sigh, huff and puff, and roll their eyes…. right?!
Something I am learning is that my expectations are often unrealistic for my children. I expect to get ready for church on Sunday mornings with no arguing. I expect that everyone will know where their shoes are. There are high hopes for when I say “It’s time to get your chores done!” that I’m not met with grumpiness. For some unknown reason, it still shocks me that my children whine about brushing their teeth before bed… or whine about the fact that they have to go to bed!
In her book, “No More Perfect Moms“, Jill Savage talks about our expectations. While there is a chapter on children, the context is a little bit different. Either way, her point still applies: we often need to not just lower our expectations, but to change them completely. As moms, we know our children really well. I think we are capable of gauging what is a realistic expectation for our children. For example, I have one child-who shall remain nameless- that can never find shoes. Despite the fact that I tell said child to either put the shoes where they belong in the hallway, or take them up to their room. She can’t ever seem to find them. Because I know this, I need to do a few things.
Be a Teacher.
I need to teach her that immediately, when she takes off her shoes to put them away. I know I will be met with resistance but I can kindly remind her that when it is time to go somewhere again, she will know where they are if she puts them away now. Sometimes we get frustrated with our children because we have not taught them properly. Yet we expect them to do things ‘our way’ without that training time.
For the record, I know it’s exhausting. Often, it is easier for me to just do something myself than it is to take the time to teach my children how to do it the right way. I’ve also learned to have a lot of grace. If I can see that my child really did their best, than I will call it acceptable, even if it isn’t up to my standards.
How can I choose to not be exasperated with my children? By being prepared. In this scenario, I know that I will need to give fair warning to my daughter because she is going to need to scrounge around the house looking for a matching pair of shoes. I could tell her “We are leaving! NOW!” and the tears would come, the “I can’t find any shoes!” screaming would begin, and I would probably get an instant headache. It’s just not worth it. So instead, literally 30 minutes before we need to leave, I ask to her to get ready-completely. Specifically, I ask her to make sure she has shoes on! If I can give a time allowance for the inevitable, it stresses me out less.
In other cases, like my 5 year old who wants to ask me 492 questions on the same topic, despite the fact that the answer is really unchanging, it’s just a matter of knowing she’s going to do it. If I can remind myself, “She’s 5,” then I would be less apt to get annoyed by the questioning. If you know something is going to happen, prepare for it. Expect it until you are shown things will be different. Until my daughter can be more responsible with her shoes, I expect that she will have a problem finding them. When she shows me she can put them away, I can then accommodate that and no longer have to give her 30 minutes to get ready.
Oh, the trap of comparison. It gets us every time. We see little Susie over there who just seems to be perfect. She always cleans up after herself and uses her manners. She likes to clean and organize and even asks her mom if she can clean the bathroom. We wonder what her mom must be doing to have such a well behaved child. Then there is little Johnny who is above average, has been reading since he was 2 and saying his times tables since he was 3. He’s such a smarty. What did his parents do to help him be so advance in learning?
We then feel less than. The measuring stick we are using is that of another family, a different mom, different children, different family dynamics. Yet we still will look and watch and wonder what on earth we are doing wrong when everyone else’s kids seem like they behave and obey so much better than our own. Have you ever been there? I have been. Yes, we can learn a lot from other moms and dads, but we have to be careful that we aren’t trying to BE other moms and dads. We are who we are. We can better ourselves, but we need to stop comparing thinking we would be better if we were just like Susie’s mom or Johnny’s dad.
Once upon a time, we were all children. I forget what it’s like to learn to read or learn multiplication. As a homeschooling family, there is ample opportunity to show grace each day. Because, trust me, it doesn’t always go as planned. Even as an adult, I forget to switch laundry over. I struggle to keep my house from becoming chaotic in mess. Dishes get left for the morning and floors don’t get swept every day. I often have triggers that just completely set me off without any warning as though I’m a ticking time bomb! And do you know what I want from the rest of my family? Grace. Mercy. Love. Forgiveness. I need to be the first to show those things to my children. They naturally forgive me when I ask for it. They don’t hold a grudge when I wronged them.
A favorite verse as a parent is Ephesians 6:1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” And all the parents said, “Amen!” But we forget that a few verses later it says “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” We are not to enrage our children. I would say the number one way we do that is unrealistic expectations.
Friends, it’s okay to change our expectations. Especially if that will bring more peace, more joy, more obedience into your home. I believe we have a hard time changing our expectations because it makes us feel like we failed or that we were wrong. Maybe we were wrong, maybe our children can’t handle the load we put on them. It’s possible we were wrong in the weight of responsibility we give our children. Obviously there is a flip side to this of doing everything for your children, expecting nothing, and letting them be lazy. I hope you know that’s not what I am talking about. I can expect more from my 10 year old than I do my 5 year old.
Expectations in and of themselves are not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, they are a necessity. We have expectations without even considering the fact that we have them. Why do you think you are disappointed when your babysitter says the kids acted up while you were gone? Or when you go to the restaurant and your children are rude? Because you have expectations.
If you are struggling with expecting too much, or even too little from your children, take the time to pray and ask God to give you wisdom. re-evaluate your expectations. Set realistic expectations, even if that means scratching what you have right now and starting over. Be the teacher, lead them, guide them, be patient with them as they learn how to be responsible. Love your children and show them much grace. Be prepared for your expectations to not be met, but look for the good! See if your child did the best they could do and then praise them for it! Don’t let perfection be your enemy!
One more thing: I don’t have this down. I wrote this as much to myself as I did to anyone else who this can encourage. I don’t have this parenting thing figured out. By the grace of God, I am doing the best I can and praying He fills in the gaps.
Now go, and enjoy your children!