My son and I are rapidly approaching his third birthday. I can’t help but marvel at the speed with which these years have flashed by, and yet, how slowly the days seem to creep.
Around 10 a.m., on any given weekday, I stare at the clock and sigh to myself, “Really?!” Because the three hours between 7 and 10 a.m. feel like a lifetime.
By 10 a.m., there have been two babies nursed and changed and dressed and brought downstairs one by one. By 10 a.m., a toddler has been changed and coerced into slowly shuffling down the stairs. He’s cried over breakfast and whined over his juice and sang about Jesus and read 5 books out loud before peeing all over the floor because he didn’t make it to the potty. By 10 a.m., two babies have been changed again and fed again and readied for morning nap time before making the trip up stairs one by one. And when the second baby is safely in bed, I descend the stairs for the 7th time that morning (at least), take my seat at the kitchen table, sip my now cold coffee, and sigh to myself realizing… its only 10 a.m.
This is when the real work begins, where the parenting rubber meets the road. When my Little Mister and I embark on our day together, and I begin the true and tiring work of teaching him moment by moment how to be a person.
10 a.m. is when I go into battle against his sin nature, and my own, praying every moment to emerge victorious at 5 p.m. when daddy walks through the door, but also, more importantly in 18 years when I unleash this kid on the world. (Hopefully, not still whining about his juice and peeing puddles on the floor. But no promises.)
With all the millions of things we do each day, it’s easy for me to get bogged down by all that needs correcting and shaping in this little man and not have a clear focus on what’s most important. There are just too many opportunities to remind him to keep his feet on the floor, bottom in the chair, markers on the paper, pee pee in the potty, take smaller bites, be careful with his sisters, ask mama nicely, and everything in between.
Ugh! Parenting is hard.
I take another sip of coffee, and I think. And I pray. And I think. I think about all the correction and nagging and reminding I’ve done, even just this morning, and I try to boil it down. Who do I want him to be? What am I really trying to say in all the little naggy, reminding things I repeat over and over? When I whittle it down, what I’m really trying to say is:
I want him to be…
1) a good listener
2) a hard worker
3) a big helper
4) a gentle brother/friend
5) a selfless sharer
6) a caring speaker
I want him to believe he can…
1) obey right away
2) do hard things
3) help others
4) play gently
5) give graciously
6) speak nicely
Six things. Six things I can repeat and discuss and teach him to be when he grows up! I can use the first list as encouragement (“What a good listener!” “Thank you, Big Helper!”) and the second as more specific encouragement and reminders (“You are such a good listener because you obeyed right away.” “Uh oh! Play gently, buddy. Be a Gentle Brother.”)
I pull from my infinite hours of Pinterest training and begin planning posters with cute sayings and crafts that teach character lessons. Incentive charts with stickers and treasure treats to be earned. I scroll through Google for websites with biblical references and art projects and devotions. I am going to shape this kids character with popsicle stick puppets and Bible story sing alongs! I have this parenting thing NAILED!
I repeat these six things over and over and test how they sound. And with every repetition I feel the negative space in my own character. I see the lack of obedience, perseverance, service, gentleness, sacrifice and compassion. In me.
With another sip of coffee, my perfect plans for perfect parenthood come crashing down around me. Because I’m still a sinner. Raising a sinner. Our sin nature spilling all over the place, ruining my freshly-pressed parenting plans.
Ugh. Parenting is hard.
With a sip and sigh, I embark on my day. Bogged down, not by my son’s character but my own. I pray that my Father might have patience with me as He guides and shapes my character. I pray that I might mirror my Parent’s patience as I parent, that I might remember my own shortcomings before I remind my son of his, that I would first shower him with love and grace in abundance as I have received it, before a gentle correction.
So I sip. And I pray. For myself. That my son might observe and repeat my actions, and not be shackled into repeating good behavior in order to quiet a repetitive nag. That I might stop reciting words and instructions and instead learn to consistently… obey right away, do hard things, help others, play gently, give generously, speak nicely… and love deeply. That I might start being instead of telling. Living instead of nagging. Changing instead of reminding.
Man, I’m glad that I’m not building my toddler’s character alone, steeped in sin with my Pinterest popsicle plans. I empty my cup with one final sip, and stand up from the breakfast table, ready to begin today’s work of shaping of my son’s heart. I empty out my nagging words and try to fill up with the Spirit, hoping Christ-like character and actions spill out of me and land onto him somehow.
Anything could happen. It’s only 10 a.m.
Marie Osborne is a wife, mama, and blogger who loves Jesus & large non-fat lattes. You can find Marie on her blog encouraging, challenging, and laughing… under a pile of diapers.