I’m a big believer in living out loud in front of your kids. I want to be real with them. I want them to see my struggles and how I handle them so they will learn how to handle their own. I want them to hear my prayers throughout the day so they will learn to prayerfully depend on God in their own lives. I want them to see me practice what I preach when it comes to things like self-control, making good choices, treating others kindly, etc. If I just tell them about Christ and morality, my girls are more likely to leave those truths in the theoretical realm. But if I model an active relationship with Jesus and practice living a moral life, my girls will understand that these truths are reality.
That being said, I apologized to my 3 year old the other day. It was dinner time, and I had both girls at the grocery store (I know, taking the kids to the grocery store was my first mistake). We were in the check out line when my husband called. I handed the phone to my oldest. She chatted away while I finished paying for the groceries. I took over the phone call as I muscled the full cart toward the parking lot (and not just a regular cart – one of those crazy contraptions that has a car on the front to keep the preschoolers entertained while shopping. This is a good idea except it is nearly impossible to steer them. I don’t understand why there isn’t an engineer out there who can make these carts both fun and functional. I digress).
As soon as I took the phone, my daughter started talking at me. Did I mention I was on the phone? In between finagling the cart, looking out for traffic, trying to remember where I parked, and keeping up my end of the conversation (poorly), I shushed my daughter no less than 3 times in 30 seconds. The child would not obey. As I put the girls in their car seats, Lexi made the fatal mistake of trying to talk to me AGAIN! I lost it. I put my face two inches from hers and yelled, “I AM ON THE PHONE – SHUT. YOUR. MOUTH!” She shut her mouth. And her eyes. She tucked her bottom lip out. And she was silent until I finished that phone call.
Now, this kid totally had it coming. If my hands hadn’t been full, I would have spanked her for such blatant, repetitive disobedience. Some people may even say she deserved to be yelled at. But I wouldn’t. I don’t think anyone ever deserves to be treated disrespectfully or unlovingly. (Note: I am NOT saying children don’t ever deserve punishment. I am saying they should be disciplined in a respectful, loving manner.)
The Bible tells us to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Elsewhere, it say, “Do everything in love.” Hmm. I see no room for exceptions in these verses. As much as I wish it read, “Bear with one another in love until you just can’t take it anymore. Then feel free to blow your lid,” it just doesn’t. And I am so glad that Jesus didn’t make exceptions to excuse Himself from having to deal lovingly with me and my sin issues. I’ve given Him plenty of opportunities to fly off the handle and yell at me, but He never has. He is love.
Anyway, after I hung up the phone, I knew instantly that how I handled the silence between my daughter and me would teach her something. If I continued to berate her for her disobedience, she would learn that it is ok to talk to people disrespectfully when she is angry. If I remained silent all the way home, she would learn to ignore conflict to make it go away. If I addressed the situation calmly, she would learn to talk things out, even when it is uncomfortable.
I looked at the pouting 3 year old in my rear view mirror. “Lexi, look at me,” I said calmly. “You know the rule is that when I am on the phone, you be quiet. I told you to be quiet 3 TIMES so I could talk to Daddy, but you did not obey, ” I explained. “It makes me angry when you disobey.”
She was silent.
I continued, “When I got angry, I lost my temper. I should not have yelled at you. I am sorry. Will you forgive me?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation, “but next time, you should take your temperature before you yell at me.”
I smiled and thought about the truth in that statement, despite her confusion.
It was just a single instance of modeling healthy conflict resolution, but Lexi took away some important truths. We need to talk about conflict; we need to admit when we are wrong; we need to ask for forgiveness; we need to be quick to extend forgiveness; we need to think of a better way to handle things in the future. But the most important thing I hope she learned is that Mommy practices what she preaches. Has she already forgotten these takeaways? Surely. But if her dad and I are more consistent in modeling healthy, biblical behavior than unhealthy, selfish behavior IN FRONT OF HER, I am confident Lexi will grow into a person who relates well with others.
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6