“Emily, go put away the clothes in your room.” And with a newfound tonal resonance in my words and voice, she simply went. No protest. All activity was paused and with the obedience of a disciplined monk child she followed my instruction and literally put away the clothes lying all over her bedroom floor.
I must admit, I sat on the couch baffled and a little set back. Once back downstairs, she announced confidently and rather matter-of-factly that all was tidy and her room had been cleaned ...just as I told her to. Usually she protests or tells me that all is picked up and cleaned in her room when I ask. This time was different. I didn’t ask if her room was clean. I just gave instruction and she did.
Wow ...in a way that effort eclipses expectation. I breathed in deeply the air of success and accomplishment and sank warmly into thoughts of the amazing young woman she would become and the considered triumphant parent I would be.
Then I was yanked back to now and normal as she got into a fight with her younger sister, said several jabbing things to her and simply walked away leaving her little sister in tears.
Another wow. This time expectation crushed effort and I was again the hobbling parent reaching blindly into the dark hoping to find the right way.
It spins me dizzy how fast the tempo and pace can change under our roof and within our hearts.
If I had to bet a million dollars that you and I were the same parents, similar in struggles, I’d bet confidently. We all face disciplinary struggles with our kids and deal with insecurity in parenting at least in thinner times when what we say and what they do race away from each other.
My kids are good kids, but it’s constant work, reshaping, repositioning, picking up falling pieces and reinforcing over and over again. A parent’s work is never quite done.
How the work is done matters exponentially.
I have a tendency to swing for the fences, to be the best parent in the best times and run the bases in victory. I want to be the best parent to my girls and sometimes my desire to be the best parent gets in the way of being an effective parent.
A parent aiming for best aims at response as validation. If the kid listens well, the parent succeeds, their ability winning the kid and showing the way. A parent aiming for effective aims at learning as validation. If the kid learns well, the parent is effectively teaching the kid to learn and think, guiding maturation.
Obviously, there’s room for semantic confusion and muddying of the waters, but for me, being the best parent is a misdirected aim focused on my kids’ behavior and response versus what they are actually learning. The why of things and how they respond to life situations is of greater importance both now and into their future. When they’re older facing decisions needed to be made, they’re ability to base off of what they’ve learned will support them much better than merely following instruction.
I learned this lesson bewildered by Emily’s quick response to my instruction.
Each time I told her what to do, she did it. She could follow my instruction, no problem. But if I asked her if her room was clean and to clean it if it needed to be, her room would be a mess and remain a mess until I told her to clean it.
And so we talked about what a lie was and that by giving me idea that her room was clean when it wasn’t, she was then lying to me. That broke her little heart, but in a great way. The effectiveness of parenting in this situation was that Emily learned how to not only respond, but to think critically and be more honest.
It is the little formative things in parenting that transcends best and helps us to be lastingly effective. And those little formative things must be done over and over again.
A parent’s work is never done. "Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it." (Prov 22:6)
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