Your Kids' Messes and Your Teachable Moments
Several days ago, Child A ate a plateful of chicken nuggets in the van on the way to practice. When he got out, he left the plate with its giant puddle of BBQ sauce on the floor of the van.
Since my kids no longer need me to buckle them in, I don't often get to the back seats, and I tend to be oblivious to the mess back there. When I do happen to look back, as I did last night, I'm usually dismayed by what I see. This time there was McDonald's trash littered about, several pairs of socks, and the plate.
I asked Child A to throw away the trash, then bring the other things inside once we got home. I guess he forgot about the second part, because this morning when I took Child B to school, the socks and plate were still there.
When we pulled into the parking lot, I went to wrestle Child B's backpack up from the backseat (those things are the size of a small child). And that's when I realized that it had been sitting on the plate.
"Oh, gross!" I said with great disgust, and started fishing for wet wipes. But Child B just slung the backpack onto his back and started walking away. I said, "Wait! It might have BBQ sauce on it . . ." He said, "It does," and turned to display the giant smear across his bag.
I was incredulous. "Don't you want me to wipe it off for you?" I asked. He shrugged nonchalantly and rotated the bag my way. Three wet wipes later, the bag still looked dingy, but at least he wasn't going to get sauce all over the next twenty kids he bumped in the hallway.
As I drove home, my mind drifted to ways I need to prevent situations like this. Maybe I could make a rule about no eating in the car. Or at least no sauce in the car. Or maybe a rule about picking up your plate. And I needed to talk to my son about being considerate! Seriously? He was going to walk into school with sauce dripping from his back? Who does that? Apparently Child B does.
I started getting really frustrated. Then angry. By the time the traffic light turned, I was fuming. I talk and talk and make rule after rule, but nothing changes! My mind jumped forward a decade or two. What will these kids become? Will they ever be able to keep a job? What if they never do take responsibility for themselves? Does this mean that I have been irresponsible? I get the feeling that Child B's teacher thinks so. Is it true? Am I failing as their mom?
I gripped the steering wheel, deciding, I need to clamp down, put the pressure on, and turn the heat up!
As I screeched into the neighborhood, my blood pressure high, a thought flickered through my mind. It's the lesson that God has been teaching and re-teaching me for so long. It goes like this:
- I can't control my kids.
- Even with my most concerted Control Girl efforts, I cannot forge them into considerate, responsible people.
- I can't ultimately make them pick up, clean up, or finish up.
- But I can look up.
Influence, Not Control
There is One who ultimately is in control of my kids' futures. He has given these children to me for a short time, and He does expect me to train and influence them. But He never asked me to control them. And ironically, when I get angry and rant or shame or jab my finger in their faces (which I probably would have been doing had they been in the car with me at this instance), I'm failing to control the one person God actually does want me to control—myself!
Yes, God wants me to get my kids ready for life, but He wants me to do this through influence, not control. And the best way to influence is not lecturing through clenched teeth and trumped up consequences; it's by being the type of person I'd like them to mimic.
Am I kind? Am I gentle and patient? Am I self-controlled? These are the ways the Spirit wants to influence me. And only when I'm under His influence is it possible for me to influence my kids well.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
My life will probably be littered with plenty of BBQ sauce and dirty socks in the days to come. But these are moments to teach and influence, not control.
Holy Spirit, please continue to correct and train my heart, that I might be more like Jesus. I put my children and their futures in Your hands—which is where they belong. I want to live under Your influence, that I might influence them well.
By Shannon Popkin