Paying Attention to Your Kids (Because It’s Hard to be Intentional When You’re Ignoring Them): ICM WK 11

So remember Marcia Scott who shared some great thoughts with us last week about having a mentor?  Well this week, I want to introduce you to her daughter-in-law, Lauren.  

I have always admired Lauren's writing - her thoughts and her wisdom - and best of all, her honesty.  She and her husband's sister (yes, another Scott) used to write a blog; you can find some really thought-provoking articles there in the archives.  

I asked Lauren to chime in on the topic of Intentional Motherhood as well, asking her to write about some thing the Lord is currently working in her heart in relation to being a mom.  And despite her extremely busy schedule (she's a mom of 2 young boys and in the middle of a big move), she was so gracious to share the following with us.  

((I had the privilege of reading this earlier this week, and her thoughts and words have been playing over and over in my mind as I interact with my children.  See what you think.))

Paying Attention to Your Kids

When Emily asked me to write a post for this series on intentional parenting, my first thought was, “Ha!  I’m not qualified for this!”  But I gave it some thought and prayer, and came up with an idea, something the Lord has been trying to teach me.  That same day I found myself explaining my thoughts to my mother-in-law while she had stopped by to drop off my most recent installment of local farm fresh eggs (yes, I am so very blessed). 

“You know, I know how to stop and pay attention to my relationship with my husband, and that has been such a blessing in our marriage!  I really need to focus on paying attention to my kids, giving them my time and seeking to meet their needs.” 

At that very moment (which happened to be at about ten o’clock in the morning) my two-year-old pranced down the hallway in his pajamas, leaving a trail of those little, gel-like balls of diaper filling on the floor behind him.  Sigh. 

“And here is a perfect example,” I told my Mama-in-law.  “I know exactly what that is on the floor, because I totally forgot to change his diaper when he got up this morning!  I am so not qualified to tell others how to parent!”

The two most important relationships we have on this earth as wives and mothers are those with our husband and children.  Time (and attention!) is a precious limited resource that we can use to invest in those who are closest to our hearts, seeking to understand each other and meet their needs as they arise, and by doing so we position ourselves to sow seeds of faith and godly character. 

We know in Titus chapter two that we are called to love our husbands and our children.  While there are a handful of other commands regarding our role as wives and mothers, this is a pretty broad one, and it is perhaps the most foundational part of being a parent.  But how do we love them?  And more specifically, if “children spell love T-I-M-E”, then how do we love them if we don’t take the time to really tune in to what they’re saying? 

My husband and I have a really great relationship.  Along with God’s gracious work in our hearts, one thing that has been a tremendous blessing in our marriage is what we call “Love Seat Time”.  When a problem arises, or when we simply feel distance or when life has just been so busy that we haven’t had a chance to really connect, we stop what we’re doing, plop down on the love seat, and deal with things, talking them out until each feels understood and some resolution is reached.  We’ve done this from the start and so we’ve had some time to practice both really listening to each other and stating what is on our hearts in a way that is not accusatory or demeaning.  Not that we do this perfectly all the time, but that kind of patience and understanding is the goal.   This is a way in which we love each other by preferring one another in honor and considering one another’s needs as more important than our own (Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3-4).  There is a kind of dignity to giving someone a safe place to open up and share what is on their heart.  I do this for my husband, and he does it for me (much more often, I should add!). 

Now, my relationship with my children is not the same as my relationship with my husband, but there are some things that I do naturally toward my husband because of my love for him …that I don’t do so naturally for my children.  Sometimes it’s because I’m lazy or distracted, and sometimes it’s because I have a toddler and a preschooler, and their little minds and hearts are developing so fast that my own mind is just catching up to the fact that they are in fact little persons with their own perspective and feelings that need to be nurtured and given direction. 

Getting more specific, my relationship with my husband is of such a high priority to me that I rarely spend time online when he’s at home.  I simply would rather be spending time with him.  So what does it say to my children if I spend most of my free time during the day online instead of with them?  Sometimes I get distracted by “researching” online for so long that I don’t start dinner on time, with the result that when my boys ask if they can help me cook, my answer is always, “No, there’s not time.”  Remember how I said time is a precious resource?  It may not always seem as though our use of what we view as our “free time”, which might be “just a minute” here and “just a minute” there throughout the day, adds up to lost opportunities with our children to learn and live right alongside us.  Haphazard parenting (which I know all too well) loses time, which can never be regained.  Intentional parenting recognizes the “evil”, fleeting nature of our days and “redeems the time” in service to the Lord and others (Ephesians 5:16). 

It means the world to my children to be included in what I’m doing.  But that requires me to think ahead and plan to include them, even if it means the laundry takes longer to fold because I’m teaching my two-year-old how to fold his shirts and shorts, and the four-year-old to fold socks; even if it means dirtying up twice as much counter space so that they can learn to roll out tortillas or cookies or biscuits; even if it means that I only get online to check social media at set time(s) of day so that what is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing does not crowd out the Very Best Things (such as reading books together and making messes in the kitchen, or singing scripture songs while mopping the floor and sitting down to talk about what God’s word has to say about being kind to each other).  Jesus, speaking of our use of monetary resources, said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing, is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10).  What we do with the little moments of our days determines how we do with our days themselves.  And how we choose to spend our time communicates a lot about who (or what) we love most.  Our children are watching. 

My own distraction, be it spending time wastefully or even just getting too caught up in my to-do list, tends to foster an attitude within me that my children are an interruption to my life instead of one of my primary responsibilities, and this attitude (along with its usual companions, Anger and Resentment), can be way uglier than any mere lack of intentionally involving my kids in what I’m doing.  I don’t tend to get angry with my husband.  I might get frustrated when plans are changed, but I understand that part of my role is to be his helper, and that means setting aside what I’m doing at the moment so that I can be available to him.  It’s a given for me, so I don’t get overly worked up about it (most of the time).  But with my kids I can get nasty.  They’re supposed to obey me!  They’re supposed to be good!  I need my space!  Why do they always fight (or need me or spill something) when I’m in the middle of something really important? 

What a far cry it is from biblical motherhood when I consider my children themselves to be interruptions!  It seems to me to make this quote from CS Lewis is all the more applicable: 

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day.” 
Lewis has aptly pointed out that we need a change of perspective.  And more than just a change of perspective, as momentous as that is, we need our hearts and minds renewed in God’s word and empowered by His Spirit to produce His fruit of love, joy, peace, and patience in place of our selfishness, grumpiness, anxiety, and anger.  If I want to parent intentionally, I must be intentional in looking after my own heart, seeking the Lord, and being what He calls me to be, namely, more like the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Having a regular Bible reading plan is great, but I also recommend doing heart surgery when you need it.  During seasons when I know that I am struggling with my attitude and words toward my children, there are two key passages that I turn to:  Galatians 5:13-24, which focuses on the fruit of the Spirit, and Ephesians 4:17-6:4, which deals with putting off sinful behavior, words, and attitudes, and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and what pleases Him, especially as it applies to family relationships.  As I’ve meditated on them myself, I’ve shared these (and other) verses with my children, being open with them about my sin and need for God to change my heart.  They can be quite good at holding me accountable.  Once I had read to them from 1 Peter 3, about having a gentle and quiet spirit.  A about a week later, my then-three-year-old sweetly confronted me when in the midst of a mommy-tantrum that involved slamming a kitchen cabinet shut: “Mama, you are not being a good, gentle woman right now.”  I can’t think of much else that could soften my heart of stone more quickly than that. 

Meditating on God’s word and praying for His transforming power to make me more like Christ is one of the best ways for me to be intentional as a child of God—and as a parent.  “Intentionally” training my children to be like Christ (having family devotions, prayer times, memorizing scripture, going to church, etc) without seeking to be like Him myself would be shooting all of my best-planned efforts in the foot.  When I’m seeking the Lord, meditating on His word, and praying for Him to work on my heart, I find He answers.  I find my heart sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction when I sin, leading me to repent in the moment, confessing my sin first to the Lord and to my children if I’ve sinned against them.  I find my often-jumbled thoughts are easier to sort through and prioritize because I now have a rod to measure them against in God’s word. 

I find that I am more sensitive to the needs of my children.  Remember how I talked about “Love Seat Time” with my husband?  The Lord has shown me at times that what my children really need is not just another rushed and offended discipline session so that I can go on with whatever it was that I was doing, but they need me to sit down and deal with what’s going on in their hearts, gently pulling up the weeds of sin, fear, and foolishness and planting faith, love, and wisdom in their place.  This was most vividly brought to my attention recently as we bought our first house.  We knew the deal was about to go through.  We knew that the house would require some work.  We knew we were going to be living in our apartment while working on the new house…for at least one month (and now two!).  I had already begun to see our daily schedule and the boys’ behavior start to unravel as things picked up in the week or two before closing.  One day the boys were just plain crazy.  And in a moment that would have normally brought out the Ugly Bear Mama, I realized that I was feeling the stress of our situation, and that the boys were, too.  I sat down with them and talked with them about how things were a little chaotic right now, and that it would only get worse once we bought the house.  I told them that I understood it must be an unsettling time for them, and reminded them that their papa and I would still discipline them when they disobeyed.  They understood, asked questions, and appreciated talking about it all.  Then we read a book together.  I’d love to tell you that it’s all been smooth sailing since that moment, but that wouldn’t be the truth.  We’re still in the midst of the chaos, and some aspects of their behavior will certainly need more diligent attention and training when things settle down.  But for now we feel blessed to be growing and working together as a family, even if it includes my husband taking an unforeseen break from hanging sheetrock to sit down with a child who just tried out the word “stupid”.  And especially since it includes sitting on the porch of our new house, listening to the water running in the nearby creek, and looking up at the stars while our four-year-old asks us to tell him more about the God who made the stars. 

Despite our shortcomings, the little bits of time my husband and I have purposefully invested in our children have paid great dividends.  If there’s one thing we have done intentionally and consistently in our short stint as parents, it’s been to stop what we’re doing when one of our children asks questions about Jesus, life, God, the Bible.  If nothing else, we want to communicate that our loving Creator is the greatest thing ever.  We fail daily, but I have seen the Lord work through our meager offerings, and I rejoice—both in what good He has accomplished in our family already, and in what I know He will continue to work out in us. 

Do your kids need a talking to about their behavior and attitudes?  Do they need to be reassured that everything will be ok in the midst of a trying or chaotic time in your home?  Do they simply need you to read a story to them, to tickle them, to sing with them?  Do they have deep, serious questions that you’ve ignored or put off?  Do they simply want to be with you and learn from you?  We cannot actively disciple our children if we are not walking alongside them.

It’s not easy to have your concentration pulled from finances or meal planning to a squabble between your preschoolers that has escalated to flying toys and hurt little boys, but it is in those moments that, perhaps instead of reacting and trying to merely regain control of the situation, we should take this as an indication that our kids need a bit of our careful attention.  And regularly attending to the needs of our children can make for pretty good preventative medicine…especially since diapers that are changed regularly are far less likely to leave a trail in the hallway.  ;-)

I am only qualified to share on this subject because I fail so miserably at it.  I can tell you what it looks like to get it wrong, and, by God’s grace, I have a few shining moments in which I’ve seen God at work in my children (and in me) despite the fact that what I’ve invested in growing His kingdom in my home is rather small compared to what it ought to be.  While I hope you’re both encouraged and equipped by what I’ve shared, I strongly encourage you to seek out an older woman who has done some things right!  Learn from her wisdom.  What does it look like to invest in the lives of our husbands and children?  What fruit has she seen from her decades of marriage and parenting?  And if you happen to find one in Arkansas, send her my way.     

- Lauren

Some application questions that I've been asking myself based on Lauren's post, which you might like to ask yourself as well:

1. Am I using my time to intentionally invest in my children, or do I spend my time with them more haphazardly, rushing through things?

2. Do my words or actions show my children (or reveal inwardly) that I see them as "interruptions," rather than one of my greatest priorities?

3. Lauren writes: 
Meditating on God's word, and praying for His transforming power to make me more like Christ, is one of the best ways for me to be intentional as a child of God -- and as a parent.  "Intentionally" training my children to be like Christ (having family devotions, prayer times, memorizing scripture, going to church, etc) without seeking to be like Him myself would be shooting all my best-planned efforts in the foot.
Am I regularly asking God to transform me, seeking a real relationship with Him, recognizing this is foundational to my role as a mother who seeks to point my children to Christ?

4.  Am I seeking out and taking time for teachable moments - when I can be addressing heart issues with my children - or am I putting out fires for the sake of moving on with what I'm doing?

5.  What step am I going to take this week to find (or get in touch with) a mentor?

((The last week of May I'll wrap up the Intentional Christian Motherhood series with a final post - be sure to check back in!))


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