Recently, an article popped up on my newsfeed for the seventh or eighth time since last summer. Shared by many a mother thrilled to have found a simple solution to a common problem, the article is entitled “No Fuss Parenting - Teach Kids to Sit Still,” with one of the first pictures further expounding, “How I Taught My Children To Sit Still in Church.”
“Teaching my kids to sit still is the best thing I ever did as a parent,” the writer gushes at the beginning of the article, and then goes on to detail her simple solution to achieving these results: just practice sitting still a lot with your children at home. They will get used to sitting still for long periods, and then will have no problem sitting still in church! Voila!
I have read many such articles meant to encourage parents with tips and tricks as they raise their children. Sometimes, I gratefully absorb the advice in parenting blogs or books. I will be struggling with a particular issue at home, and that advice or tip will make all the difference. Implemented, the issue is resolved, or at least improves greatly.
Other times, however, these articles fill me with nothing but guilt and frustration. This was my gut response to the “teach kids to sit still” article. Why? Because my kids have never, not once, in the 4 years since I have become a parent, sat still for an entire church service and I am already implementing all of the tips and tricks! My kids sit still at home all the time! They can sit for hours reading or listening to books. I almost never have a kid try to escape the table during dinner time. We have quiet time for 2 hours every afternoon where my kids are required to stay still and quiet in their beds, whether they want to sleep or not. And yet, they are unable to make it through a church service, EVER, without losing their minds at least once during the sermon.
Granted, at ages 4, 2, and 1, my children are still young. Perhaps they are still works in progress. Maybe if we continue practicing self control at home, they will reach an age where they have mastered it. Then maybe I, like the mother in the article, will be able to parade my children around town with full faith that they will behave like perfect little angels. I, too, will not bat an eye at bringing them to a long graduation ceremony, or enrolling them in preschool. With just a little more work, we will arrive at perfection in this area. I’m sure of it. Time to buckle down, work harder, and mold my children into the shapes I know they can become. It will be the best thing I will ever do as a parent.
Am I the only one who has thought this way about raising my children? Keeping always some dim “arrival point” in the forefront of my mind, I chase the illusion of “someday perfection” in my children. SOMEDAY my children will learn self control. SOMEDAY they will obey me perfectly. SOMEDAY they will be polite, well-mannered, patient, peaceful, kind, generous, loving, joyful, good, and gentle. SOMEDAY a veritable fruit tree will erupt where I have planted a seed and toiled at the soil, and I will sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor as a parent. “These are my kids,” I will think. “It was hard work raising them, but they are just about perfect now, so it was worth it. Aren’t they awesome?”
I look to other, older, or more disciplined parents and mistakingly think they’ve "arrived." They’re in the blossoming fruit tree stage of parenting, right? They’ve sewn all their seeds and toiled at their soil and are sitting back, reaping the benefits of well behaved, perfect children. I’ll get there some day, if I follow their lead.
I read parenting books or blogs and believe they hold the key to achieving “someday perfect.” If I just implement the correct behavioral strategies, prevention methods, consequences, rewards, time outs, spankings, lectures, chore charts, or logic, the books tell me, I can achieve perfect children. If they’re not perfectly behaved yet, it’s because I’m doing it wrong. I have more work left to do, but we’ll get there, if I just stay consistent with the recommended strategies.
In all of this struggle to raise my children to be amazing human beings, to achieve the elusive “someday perfect,” I lose sight of one important detail:
My children are not perfect. In fact, they are broken; imperfect since conception. This is the human condition, and no amount of behavioral strategizing, practicing, or preventing will erase this condition in my children. Even if I am able to teach them to understand right from wrong, their sinful nature will deliberately and repeatedly ignore right and commit wrong. As human beings, they are sick with sin, and will be until the day that they die and are made perfect in heaven with Jesus.
So why do I get hung up on believing that the “best thing I could ever do as a parent” is teaching my kids to sit still in church? Or to say “please and thank you” at the appropriate time? Kindness, gentleness, and self control, these are good things that we all want our children to exhibit, but they are not the end-all-be-all of Christian parenting. We forget that these things are fruits of the Spirit. They are what happens as a natural result of the Spirit working within us, not the other way around.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
As a Christian parent, I need to revamp my focus. My ultimate goal isn’t to force the outward behavior of my children into a mold of perceived perfection so that my life will get easier or so that other people will admire my well-behaved family. Rather, my main goal as a Christian parent should be to spiritually uplift and fortify the inward hearts of my children toward Christ. The “best thing I could ever do as a parent” is to teach my children to know and love Jesus as their Savior. If the day ever arrives where they make it through an entire church service without fidgeting (Lord willing!), I hope it's because they're engrossed in celebrating the beautiful relationship they have with Jesus.