This is the third post in a series by Pastor Kyla, highlighting small and simple steps that, by God's grace, help us develop spiritually healthy families.
I sat with my son this week in an allergist's office, waiting to see what would happen on his forearm as he underwent a scratch test. A scratch test is very much what it sounds like. Skin is scratched with a toothpick like instrument that has been dipped into an allergen such as dog dander, pollen, grasses, etc. Then the patient is asked to wait for ten minutes and watch for a reaction. The reaction lets us know what allergen needs to be avoided. After ten minutes, it appears that my son has a lot of reactions, which means many things to be avoided.
This experience reminded me of a simple truth in parenting – and one of our Two Steps Forward for this week:
1) Choose to act rather than react. Reactions, especially over-reactions, teach our children that we are to be avoided. As parents we would be well advised to consider ways to minimize our reactions while maximizing our intended actions.
Did you just discover your toddler has dumped an entire carton of milk on the floor? Resist the urge to react in frustration, and instead breathe deeply. Respond by taking action – remove the child from the wet mess, and work to clean it up, perhaps while commenting calmly that they must have been surprised when that happened. You are teaching your child that you can be trusted with their messiness. Did you just learn that your teenage son has been viewing pornography on his iPod? While it will be very tempting to react by banishing him from the internet for the rest of his life, you can instead take the action you want him to see modeled. You can begin a conversation, exploring his interest and expressing your concerns. You can answer any questions he may have and direct him toward resources about healthy sexuality that you would want him to have. You are teaching your child that you can be trusted with their inner-most thoughts.
2) Model thanksgiving. It can be habitual as a parent to constantly monitor the language of our children ensuring that it reflect the manners we hold dear. “Say 'please'.” “Say 'thank you'.” “Say 'God bless you'.” Yet, if all we pursue is a polite child, we may be trading something away in the process. Fostering true gratitude in our children is a gift that will transform each and every day of their lives. It will establish for them the truth that they are not the source of their own joy, rather we are relational creatures designed for connection with our Creator. It will remind them that they are connected to others in the community of faith who both give and receive. It will humble them, and lift them up simultaneously.
This week, look for the moments when you can do more than teach polite speech – look for the opportunity to be grateful in the presence of your children. It can be as natural as enjoying the beauty of a full moon while giving thanks that God made this fascinating world, or as intentional as partaking in the Eucharistic tradition of bread and wine with a heart of gratitude overflowing for the grace God extends to each of us. Do more than say thanks – truly be thankful. That is a great step forward for our children to witness.
About the Two Steps series: Pastor Kyla wants to encourage parents with this truth – two steps forward and one step back is still moving forward. Instead of dwelling on the losses, it is helpful to ensure your two steps forward are well paced, sure-footed, and abundantly fruitful. Match this intention with the abundant grace of our God, and parenting is transformed from something we “survive” to the means by which we find ourselves enjoying God's kingdom-life.