As I held a friend’s newborn son this past week – he was the same size and weight as my son was at birth, and oh how it took me back to those scary new-mom days! – I thought so many different things.
Of course, there were all the feels that come along with holding a squishy new babe, that moment of “almost-37 isn’t too late to have another, is it?” followed by “what are you thinking, of course it is!” as you look at your leggy, skinny, officially tween-aged son, and the sense of relief as you hand off that tiny, helpless, itty-bitty new human to its own mother.
There were many things I could have said, none of which I did, because I try not to overwhelm new moms with so much advice. And honestly, this new mom isn’t at risk for succumbing to the pressures that many in the circles I come from would apply, so there wasn’t any need for those type of warnings.
What do I mean?
I remember being that new mom, and being given or urged to purchase the following:
- Books on strong-willed children (in which a mother knows her 10-day old infant will need extra discipline through life because the infant refused to lay there compliantly for a spinal tap, but instead wriggled and squirmed and cried)
- Books on shepherding my child’s heart (in which 8 months is listed as a recommended age for spanking a child for “wilful disobedience)
- Books on training my kid like an Amish mule (in which, should you be a pedophile with a spanking fetish, you will find enough material to delight you the rest of your life. Enough children have died from that book’s admonitions that I’d break my “no censorship on anything” stance just to dance around a book burning of that author’s manuals)
- Books on wising up about my baby (in which parents are told that their child is out to manipulate them with its cries, and that the only godly response is leaving the child to scream until it gives up hope you’ll ever respond)
- Books on getting creative with “discipline” (in which tactics are recommended that would have an adult jailed for assault, should they apply them to another adult)
All of those, and more…along with “don’t let that baby manipulate you!” and “watch out, babies are devious!” and “don’t let that sweet face fool you, they all gotta have the devil trained out of them!”…sermons. Phone calls. Friendly visits.
It was a tsunami of crap, and I nearly drowned in it as I floundered my way clear. Because none of it, not one iota of it, ever sat right with me.
I knew how it felt as a child to endure those things and that I’d never put my kid through it, and I knew that I didn’t want to raise a kid that nobody could stand to be around. But that left a huge middle ground, and for a while, I just stood there holding my child close and realizing that none of the books, none of the training manuals, no self-help or how-to or 5 point sermon on raising a godly kid could help me.
Of course, as all moms do, I eventually settled on a path. That new-mom-hormone rush subsided, and I began to get a little experience under my mom-belt, and I found a way that made sense to me. (It’s called Grace-Based Discipline, Attachment Parenting…a world with no “c is the answer to a+b” but rather, “here’s a framework. It will look different for every person, as every parent and every child is unique.”)
My son is almost 10 now, and we’ve long-since moved past everything the nay-sayers said in the beginning.
(Yes, he sleeps in his own bed. No, he doesn’t ask to nurse before bed. Yes, he’s always ready for a hug from mom or dad. No, he doesn’t throw himself on the floor and tantrum when he doesn’t get what he wants. Yes, he’s a compassionate, caring, sweet child who doesn’t think the world revolves around him. No, he isn’t clingy and afraid of the world around him.)
And while I realize I have yet to get through the teens with him (my “favorite” caution, to date, was that refusing to hit him when he was little means that one day the cops will throw him in jail for not knowing what authority is…something that cracks me up every time he says “Mom! you’re one kilometer over the speed limit, please slow down and obey the traffic laws!”)…I’m not afraid of the teen years.
Because I’ve come to realize something.
Every single book that told me to “train my child for jeezus!” or “you only have 18 years to train him!”…they were wrong.
I’m almost 37. Jesus is still training me. I’m still growing, learning, changing, seeking for the Light.
I’m not a finished work. I’m not yet fully trained.
And the thing that God has used the most to train me – to gently convict my heart of my selfishness, my desire for things to go just so, my arrogance, my insistence that everything meet *my* needs…has been my son.
I have no right to engage in “child training” thinking I am fully qualified to judge my child’s heart and motives. No human does.
Rather, my child has trained me – not to become his slave, as everyone said when I nursed him on cue, but to learn to put someone else’s needs above my own. To learn what it means to serve another person, someone who is now my brother in Christ. To realize afresh what the parable in the Bible means, when Jesus talks about throwing someone into debtor’s prison over a smaller debt than was forgiven me.
My child’s bad days, the moments where he needs correction…he receives that correction. But so very often, he receives that correction as I tell him “I’m sorry for my response to your behaviour. You were wrong, and so was I. Here is what you need to do next time, and here is how I should respond if you don’t.”
Because in that moment, when I so clearly see the wrong he has done, the Holy Spirit taps my shoulder and points out the log in my own eye.
The other night, as I tucked him in, and blessed him, and said the Shema, and whispered “Goodnight, Precious!” He asked, “Why do you call me Precious sometimes? That didn’t do very good things in Lord of the Rings!” and I told him, “Because you are my treasure. But instead of making me twisted and warped, you are God’s gift to make me into a better person.”
In our family, that’s how Child Training works…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.