an attitude of the heart
My son, Liam, has never been an "easy" child. It seems that even as a baby he was headstrong and complicated. Parenting him has stretched me in many ways. There have been times when I have lost my cool and I felt bad, but I also felt at my wit's end! How many times do I have to deal with the same whining and complaining? How many times do I have to explain seemingly simply concepts? When will he just understand and respect that we are the parents and we are in charge? That we do things because we love him not because we want to ruin his life!
Don't get my wrong. Liam is truly a wonderful child. He is incredibly intelligent and sensitive and loving. He has the desire to do the right thing. He is quick to forgive. He is patient with his little sister. He is affectionate towards those he loves. He's really a great kid. And I am thankful for the person he is.
But, you know, kids are kids. And some kids are more easy-going than others. Liam really makes me work for it. He challenges me in every area of motherhood. It can be frustrating, but I know that it's better this way. I'm learning more about myself and my God than ever before.
The other day we were having a talk about why he tends to lash out and have tantrums. I honestly was struggling to understand because, dude, c'mon. Chill out. He said, "It's just something inside of me that I can't control. It's, like, in my blood and I don't know how to stop it." You know, he's not wrong. We're all born with a sin nature. It's not fair to tell him to just "stop it." I have to give him the tools to understand where his behavior is coming from and how to address the heart issues behind the behavior.
I remembered a book I read while in seminary. It's called "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp. In it Tripp says, "Biblical discipline addresses behavior through addressing the heart. If you address the heart biblically, the behavior will be impacted." He also says, "If you address only behavior in your children, you never get to the cross of Christ. It is impossible to get from preoccupation with behavior to the gospel. The gospel is not a message about doing new things. It is a message about being a new creature. It speaks to people as broken, fallen sinners who are in need of a new heart." I don't want to be a behaviorist. I want to really figure out what's going on in Liam's head and heart. I want to give him the proper language to express himself. I want him to understand that no, he can't control his behavior. But Jesus Christ can do a good work in his heart. God can change his heart and make him a new creation.
This approach actually takes a lot more work but I believe it is worth it. My prayer is that Liam will come to understand that he needs God. That God is mighty in him. That the Holy Spirit is his guide. And that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I also want him to know that he is loved, no matter what, he is loved by his parents and his God.
So I'll be re-reading "Shepherding a Child's Heart" over these next few days and I'll be thinking about what changes we can make to help Liam be his best self. Soon he will be going into kindergarten. He's growing up. He will face new challenges and situations. The attitude of his heart will determine the outcome of these challenges, and I want to make sure we are doing all that we can to shepherd his heart well.
P.S. If you want to read some more about giving children a voice and helping them get to the root of their behavior check out an article I wrote for mom.me: 'Because We Said So' Isn't Going to Cut It.