I am a young mommy.
With a young son.
And an even younger daughter. (In fact, because said daughter has yet to make an appearance into the world, I'm beginning to doubt that she's a girl... actually, I'm beginning to doubt I'm even growing a human. 40 weeks of pregnancy makes me feel like a giant tumor has taken over my life.)
But although I'm a young mommy, I have been teaching Sunday school, babysitting, and orchestrating pediatric therapy for a total of 15 years. Consistent interaction with children and their parents has led me to develop a nice little package of pet theories and opinions. But until the advent of Grant, they were just that: theories.
So, I am venturing out into the waters of parenting in a very new, unsteady, untried little boat of philosophies and personal mantras.
God is very nice to new mamas. Unless it's the case of an older-child adoption, He usually starts us out with training wheels. The extent of "parenting" required in the first few months of a child's life is fairly minimal. It doesn'tfeel minimal. It feels exhausting and overwhelming and completely impossible. But I distinctly remember, as I learned my baby's cries ("Ah, this means he's hungry... that means he's angry... this one means he's settling down.") how relieved I was that I didn't have to discipline my child, or redirect sinful thoughts, or pray for a prodigal son who was making horrible choices. Parenting starts off with training wheels. My first parenting decisions were when to comfort versus when to let him comfort himself.
Loving these "training wheels" days!
But children have a very tricky habit of growing up.
I still consider myself in training wheels stage. We're not having esoteric discussions on God's sovereignty and the nature of sin and grace. We're just learning the basics. Grant knows, and can obey the following commands: "No," "come here," and "gentle." He's also learned that "yuck!" means let go/spit that out of your mouth. (An early fascination with toilets helped us develop this last skill...) We're working on sitting still, contentment, and playing with one toy at a time.
I'll be honest, there's this golden period after he learns new command. After the learning curve, he obeys beautifully. It's like being in parenting heaven. I feel like a rock star. My child is so good, so well behaved, such a blessing.
And then the little sinner learns that he doesn't have to obey.
And things get dicey.
He starts "coming, " but then he'll stop 10 feet away. He hears "no" the third time I say it (despite making very obvious eye contact during the first two commands). He plays with the boundaries. He tries to see how far he can go before there are consequences. He is, after all, human. We all do it.
And this puts me in a very sticky, new-mommy position. After all, he is only one. Perhaps I should let it slide. Maybe just this once... I mean, I know that he knows what he's supposed to do, but maybe something is making it hard for him to obey. Maybe he's cranky, or tired, or hasn't gotten enough "mommy time." After all, won't we all be happier if I just let it slide? I do want him to be happy...
And I was forced to ask myself, "Why do I want my baby to obey?"
For my convenience? No, because it's more convenient to let things slide and cater to his every whim.
For public show? No, because the majority of our interactions are just him and me.
For just the sake of obedience? Not really. Obedience for its own sake is a hard task master. Like obeying laws in a dictatorship.
Why demand immediate, complete obedience from a one year old? Or a two year old? Or any child?
There are two reasons that I've landed on in my new parenting thinking...
1. Obedience keeps the heart tender. By requiring my son to obey, by teaching him and showing him how much he needs help to obey, I'm preparing his heart to accept the fact that he is a sinner. Boundaries and consequences reiterate to him that he is not perfect. He can't do this on his own. He needs help. My child is only one year old. But every night I cry out to the Maker of Grant's soul to save my baby boy and help him to grow into godly manhood. I, as his mommy, can help Grant be aware that he needs a Savior, by providing reasonable boundaries and guidance when he does not meet these expectations. No child will obey perfectly. That's not the point of required obedience. The point is a steadfast demonstration that they need the help of a Savior. They can't measure up on their own.
2. "Obedience comes before understanding." I'm currently reading The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. In this book, she clearly articulates the fact that obedience often has to come first... before the emotions, before the rewards. We can't live by our feelings, we can't allow them to dictate how we respond. Obedience is paramount to emotion. While healthy and necessary expression of feelings is encouraged in scripture (read the Psalms if you don't believe me), they are by no means supposed to drive our behavior. His entire life, my son will be battered by emotions. He will get angry, lust, crave, despair... but obedience can save him from worlds of hurt. By learning to obey, regardless of his feelings, he can avoid the pain that comes from disobedience.
The entire book of Deuteronomy talks about the blessings of obedience and the curse of disobedience: "But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you." (Deut. 28:15) God doesn't ask for his people to want to obey, or to be in the mood to obey. He merely asks for obedience. By training my son that obedience is not dependent on internal emotions or external circumstances, I'm equipping him early to fight his own sinful tendencies. I'm preparing him for a life of delighting to do God's will: "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." (I John 5:3) God's love is displayed by providing commands that make life more enjoyable. By teaching my child unconditional obedience, I am preparing him to believe that goodness and joy come from obeying.
Now, I understand I am raising a sinner. He has his own free will. God knows what his future is, but I do not. I could parent perfectly (I won't, but theoretically I could), and he could still choose to walk away from truth. But I want to prepare his heart to accept truth, to accept salvation, to accept his Savior. And I want to start that preparation early. Immediately. I want to keep lies of disobedience from building a callous around his little heart.
So, to that end, I'm working to expect immediate obedience. From a one year old.
I'm glad this is still "training wheels stage."
Because this is a big job...