As I stood in the church nursery today and watched parents dropping off their precious little children, I was reminded of the vast differences in Godís design for people. Some children practically dove into the room heading straight for a favorite toy while others clung to Mommy and Daddy certain that letting go would mean never seeing them again. Some stood on the sidelines watching the action while others created it. Some were soft spoken, barely raising their eyes while others yelled from across the room. It struck me that in all the activity of different behavior there was no perfect child. There was no perfect behavior. There were simply differences.
It seems to me that raising children is less about molding and shaping them into the human being you desire them to become and more about learning how to unfold the unique person that God has already created them to be. Sometimes I think we (and I speak as a part of this collective we and not separate from it) as parents get so caught up in the expectations we have for our children that we miss out on the wonderful opportunity of truly seeing them for who they are. We have so many hopes, dreams and preconceived notions of how they should act that it can sometimes color the way we feel about our children and about ourselves as parents. In the extreme we can feel a real frustration in them or even shame when they donít seem to fit into the mold we have created for them. We can feel disappointment in ourselves because we feel responsible for our childís behavior.
By accepting our children as individuals created by God with certain strengths and weakness, gifts and talents, we can learn to let go of the pressure to make them into some sort of perfect child. This is not to say that parents shouldnít train their children up in the way they should go. On the contrary, I believe as Christian parents we are called to teach our children about Jesus and to reveal to them the standards that God has for their lives. We need to correct them when they do wrong and gently bring them back to the way that is right, just as our heavenly father does for us.
We also need to respect them as individuals. We need to realize that the way we train each child can and often should vary based on temperaments and God given personalities. A strong word sternly spoken may be enough for the timid, less aggressive child, while a firm spanking may be needed for the child who has a hard time with self control and boundaries. When we mix these up and show too much discipline to the fearful child or not enough to the willful child we can be in danger of not really training our children at all. We simply confuse them and frustrate ourselves when we donít see the results we are looking for.
As a former early childhood student and educator I knew how important it was to respect my own child as an individual, and yet when he was first born I found myself comparing him to other babies to see if he ďmatched upĒ. Right from the start Aaron was very shy. As a newborn he often cried when anyone other than myself held him and he was easily overwhelmed by a lot of noise or stimulation. I found myself making excuses for him and attempting to justify his behavior as if something were wrong with him. I felt bad for his grandmothers who simply wanted the joy of cuddling their new grandbaby. On the other hand deep down I knew it was wrong to put so much pressure on my new baby and on myself. I realized I needed to help people to understand that Aaron required a little more time to warm up and an extra heaping of softness, patience and tender loving care.
I soon stopped apologizing for my sonís tentative behavior and began accepting it is a part of who he was. I began to pray that God would help me to see my baby as he truly was, to help me understand him and accept him as part of His unique design and purpose. Of course I gave him opportunities to blossom and grow beyond his comfort zone just as God does for me. My husband began give him his nighttime bottle to help develop the bond between them. I brought him to baby and me classes at the library to help him to become more comfortable around noise and other children. Over time (he is 20 months now) he has become less shy and timid, however he is still a toddler who does better with just a few people around and not a large noisy crowd. He still likes to have his Mommy close by for security and often cries when I am gone. I am still learning too. I am learning how to ignore the pressure from often well-meaning parents and family members. I am learning how to step into my childís world and see things from his point of view. I often have remind myself how short this time with my precious son is, how much I want him to confide in me over the years to come and to feel loved and accepted by me his entire life.
I will soon have a new challenge ahead of me. We are due to have our second child in November and I will really have to put this knowledge to the test. I will have to forget everything I learned with my first child and see this second child as a completely new and different individual with new behaviors and a new personality. I must confess I canít wait! It will be such a joy to unfurl a new little life and all the delights and challenges, strengths and weaknesses that come along with it!