Expectations

Gayle with family in 1972

” I could never live up to her expectations.” How often have you heard this tragic statement in regard to someone talking about a parent? Sometimes a father, sometimes a mother, but equally heart-rending. Living with the feeling that you did not measure up is sometimes debilitating, but always hurtful. The offending parent may have never verbalized their attitude towards the child, but in this case actions do speak louder than words. Looks of disdain, ignoring a child’s presence or needs,  just being too busy to listen all communicate lack of regard for a child.

Making fun of a child who makes a mistake, whether physical or verbal, is so hurtful. This can not only make a child feel inadequate, but can make a child feel like not trying something  new for fear of failure. Parents must guard their speech to prevent hurtful words from wounding their child. Words spoken in frustration and impatience are especially scaring. One of the most harmful responses to a child is comparing that child to someone else in a negative way. “Why can’t you be like so and so…..?” “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

I have an older brother who was a high achiever in everything he did. He made excellent grades, was a good athlete, played the trombone, and NEVER got in trouble. My parents made it a point to not compare myself or my younger brother to our older sibling. They expressed pleasure in my feeble athletic pursuits, praised me for the grades I earned, and more importantly, supported my unique pursuits in artistic expression and theatre, things my brothers did not do. There was not a sense of competition in our home – but a realistic expectation that each of us would do our personal best. We are all different, and encouraging those differences is important. We tried to do the same with our four children, celebrating their differences and unique qualities. I can’t say that there was never competition between them, but it was self-inflicted, not from their father or me. The following Scripture is very meaningful to me –

Psalm 62:5   “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.

It is natural for parents to have expectations for their children. We must make certain that our children know we love and accept them unconditionally. They must know that our love is not based on whether or not they meet our expectations.  The second part of that verse holds the key – “my expectation is from Him”. We must allow God to form our children according to HIS good pleasure, not ours. I particularly like the verse  Ephesians 3:20 in the Amplified version.

“Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]–“

Now I can think of some pretty wonderful things to have happen for my children and grandchildren. Yet this verse states the fact that what God has planned for them is better then anything I can even think or dream!

So – the challenge for us as parents and grandparents is to let our expectations come from God.

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A Spiritual Greenhouse

Our homes can be spiritual greenhouses where tender souls are fed and nourished until they are ready to be transplanted out in our world. The soul is the aspect of our being that God created to desire Him. Since the Garden of  Eden God has sought relationship with the humans He created, and throughout history, we have blown it! We have thought it was about setting up rules and rituals to follow, but it is really about relationship with God through His son Jesus.

As we seek to guide our children toward a meaningful relationship with their Heavenly Father, we can learn so much from the way we grow tender seedlings. In a greenhouse, seeds are planted in soil that has the correct nutrients for that plant. The soil also serves as support for the emerging seedling. In our homes, the soil is like the unconditional love we must show toward one another. Our children must sense a constant acceptance of who they are  that allows them to grow in acceptance of who God made them. This is not a denial of sinful behavior, but a realization that God loves us “while we are yet sinners”.

As seedlings begin to sprout and grow, they must have water to sustain growth. As our children are raised in an atmosphere of unconditional love, they need the water of God’s Word to nourish and establish them in spiritual truth.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
   that I might not sin against you.

Then seedlings must have sunshine to grow in a healthy fashion. Seedlings without sunshine are pale, leggy, and have few leaves. They are weak and the stems cannot support the little plant as it grows. The sun is Jesus, God’s son the light of the world. As our children grow it is important to encourage them to develop their own relationship to God through Jesus. They will not become strong spiritually on love (soil) and God’s Word (water) alone. They must have the light of Jesus shining in their lives to strengthen and establish them.

Often gardeners will prune young plants to make sure that the plant grows straight and doesn’t branch off in too many directions creating a weak stem or trunk. Then, after the plant has a strong stem, pruning encourages healthy branching out and more prolific blooming. Pruning spiritually is discipline, cutting out the things that hinder spiritual growth. In young children this can be monitoring what they read, what they see in the media, and the kind of toys they play with. Removing harmful influences is like weeding and being sure that the tender plant isn’t choked out.

Finally, the home should be like a greenhouse protecting the little plants from harsh elements and extreme temperatures. Our homes can be a haven of protection from the harsh influences of our culture. It should be a safe place for our children and their friends. Establishing a time for family devotions where children are free to ask questions and encouraged to share hurts and concerns will create a safe, loving, and nurturing environment that will allow our children to grow spiritually and bare fruit that remains.

Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)

“30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.    31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Jesus said these words and emphasized that was no greater commandment then these. The past four weeks we have taken a brief look at the four aspects of our beings, the heart (emotions), soul (spiritual), mind (intellect), and strength (physical).  As parents we sometimes focus on one or two of these areas, or we may switch focus from time to time.  God has created us with all these aspects and Jesus states that we are to love God with our whole beings.

The challenge before us is to balance the training of our children, which will only occur by His grace.

Along for the Ride – The Emotional Roller Coaster

We know that as women we have hormonal changes that affect and often dictate our emotions. These are often chemical responses that we have no control over, yet we must still carry on with life. We cannot control the circumstances, but in many cases we can control our response to the circumstances. (I say in many cases because sometimes it is a chemical response that we cannot control. In those cases, medical intervention is necessary, and beneficial)

How can we help our children learn to have healthy emotional responses to others and the world around them? First we must acknowledge that emotions  are a God-given aspect of our nature as humans. Healthy children are born expressing emotions; crying when hurt, lonely, or afraid.  They also begin early smiling, laughing, and expressing excitement. Two of our grandsons LOVE to eat and it is fun to see their excitement when their mothers call them to the table. Their siblings better keep an eye on their food!

These expressions of emotion should be encouraged and affirmed when exhibited appropriately. They should be ignored or addressed firmly when used to manipulate or control. I remember the first time one of our children threw themselves down in Roses (pre-WalMart) and threw a fit in hopes of getting a certain toy. I had been taught to ignore the child when he/she throws a tantrum and I did just that. I calmly went down the next aisle and waited. It soon became quiet and I pushed the cart back to the previous aisle and saw our child lying there, waiting to see if anyone noticed. Since the “fit” did not result in extra attention , and certainly not the desired toy, I did not have to deal with that outburst again. A strong-willed child may try this several times, but by being consistent and firm your child will learn to control this negative behavior.

The Bible talks often about the “heart” which refers to the emotions. In Mark 12:30 Jesus says when asked what the greatest commandment is:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

When we encourage our children to love God with their whole hearts, it puts their own emotions in check. When we love ourselves first, emotions control our actions. It is all about us! As children begin to place God’s will and purpose for them first, they are able to learn that feelings come and go, but God’s love for them remains forever.

As a teacher, I have gotten to know a great variety of students over the years.  The unhappiest young people I see are the ones who have gotten their own way most of their lives. Their parents have mistakenly given in to them and they are never satisfied. These young people are selfish, demanding, and emotional wrecks because they are treated the way they treat others.

The happiest students I see are the ones who put others first. This is without exception. These students are kind, generous, and respectful and they receive these qualities back in return. Gary Smalley teaches about “Emotional Bank Accounts.” He says that what we invest in is what we withdraw. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Luke 6:38 says this very thing.

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Emotions are a part of who we are. They can be a blessing when we help our children learn to control their influence. This becomes more important the older our children become. So, now is a good time to begin encouraging positive emotional expressions and learning self-control of negative emotions. Then, hang on for an exciting ride!

Next week – the fourth aspect – Encouraging Spiritual Health.

Physical Training

I remember looking at my father’s Biology textbook and being spellbound by the pictures of human anatomy.  The most amazing part was the way the transparencies would layer each other showing first the skeletal structure, then the muscles and ligaments, the circulatory system, the organs, and finally the skin covering the human form.  Each page was fascinating and complex, and when I finally was in 10th grade and learned about the systems of our bodies and the way each worked in support of each of the others, I developed a deep respect for the manner in which the human body was created. To think that we are the result of innumerable mutations is beyond rational thought  in my humble opinion!

Psalm 139:14 (NIV)
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Yes, our bodies are wonderfully made and I believe it is important to instill in our children an early respect and appreciation of our bodies as God created them to be. Physical activity brings such joy to children. We have three grandsons who are nearing their first birthday and as they pull up on everything in reach, it tickles me to watch them “dance” whenever they hear music. They bounce and sway to the music, and it comes naturally without any intentional instruction.

It is also fun to watch children when they are set free in a wide open space – they RUN! You open the car doors at a park and as soon as they get free of the confines of their seat belts they burst forth with physical activity. Healthy bodies were designed to move, and when we are able to use our bodies as God intended, it brings joy. Our brains release serotonin when we engage in physical activity and it works in children as well. Children need to play physically. They will eat better, sleep better, and get along with others better when they move muscles and expend energy. Think about the times weather prevents outside play (cabin fever) and the irritability that results in the parents as well as the children. Planning physical activity is just as important as planning meals and naps.

Some ways to work physical activity into busy schedules are:

  • take walks while supper is in the oven. The walk can be short, but it will exercise muscles and encourage appetites.
  • dance around to a favorite praise CD, even create your own exercise routine, jumping, hopping, arm circles, toe touches, etc.
  • make a obstacle course/fitness course in your yard. This can be very simple: a log to jump over, a landscape timber to balance along, a tree/bush, rock, to run around and back.
  • ride bikes/ tricycles  together.  This may not be possible depending on location, but bike riding and scooter riding certainly gets the heart rate up.
  • walk to places whenever possible. Again, this depends on your location, but it provides exercise while getting you to your destination.
  • include your child in your personal exercise routine at times. This is not always possible, but even if you must adapt your pace or length of workout to include your child, it will reap great rewards.
  • find a nearby park and meet friends/family there to play
  • some children are born with physical limitations. It is a special challenge for parents to work with these children within the limits of their physical abilities.

I Corinthians 9: 24-25

 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.                              25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

These verses refer to the physical discipline that athletes need to succeed, just as we must discipline ourselves to follow Christ. All of us must find the physical activities that best meet our children’s unique situation. Making  physical activity an early and important part of our child’s life will bless them for them for the rest of their lives and celebrate the glory of God’s creation.

Next week the topic is Emotional Health of Young Children.