Thursday, December 1, 2016

Parenting Secrets

Recently, I took care of a little 4-year-old girl for a couple of weeks. She’s the daughter of one of my Beehives (#MormonLingo), who is now old enough to be a mom. She’s 32 now and has been a close family friend since she was twelve years old.  She and her daughter are staying with us until she gets back on her feet. So in a lot of ways, I feel like I’m playing the grandma role to this little girl.  And what is coming out of me in my interactions with her is definitely more grandma in nature than the mom I used to be when I had kids that age. I mean it’s almost like my younger motherhood years were a refiner’s fire for me that showed me the complete journey of a child, which has totally settled me down in my parenting skills. And now after many years of being away from that very difficult time in my life, I know at least a little better now how to handle the relationship between a parent and a child and the natural conflicts that arise. Thank heaven (literally)!

"Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine?...For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" ~Isaiah 28:9-10

So I’ve been watching myself to assess why I’m responding to the little 4-year-old the way that I am. I’ve noticed that the overall rule that governs my thoughts and actions is striving to honor her Agency as much as I can. There are a number of family/home/safety rules I have to ask her to keep but if it doesn’t break one of those, I might as well allow her to choose for herself.  If she doesn’t want to eat all her food, she doesn’t have to (at least while I’m in charge of her…haha). If she doesn’t like something I give her, she doesn’t have to eat it. If she wants a band-aid or a piece of gum, why not?  If she wants to sit on my lap, hop on. If she wants to get down and do something else, off you go. If she is curious about something in my office, let her see it and handle it if it is safe. Answer her questions about it but don’t go overboard with the answer. Just tell her what she wants to know. Let her determine how much that is. If she wants to use the Swiffer to help me sweep the floor, go for it. If she wants to take the mop from me and do it herself, okay.  No reason to stifle that desire to clean when it’s actually there.

Listen:  "This is Your Life" by Francesca Battistelli

When I honor her Agency, I tell her yes. I let her make the choice. And when a child is given that choice often enough she senses the love in that. She may not be able to analyze it like I do, but she feels it. Every child knows that she has a God-given gift to choose.  And I believe children are more willing to honor the rules we ask them to keep when we honor their rules as much as we can.

The movie Miracle Worker by Walt Disney is a retelling of the Helen Keller story.  In the movie, when Anne first trains Helen to stop eating off of other people’s plates, stop eating with her hands, stop pinching, hitting, hurting people when she wants something, stop throwing things across the room or throwing herself on the floor screaming and kicking when she doesn’t get her way, she is just beginning to get through to Helen. Anne has been able to stop the tantrums and other undesirable behaviors but she hasn’t been able to fully teach her about her gift of Agency. When Helen’s father is satisfied with a more well-behaved, clean daughter and is not interested in further progression, Anne says, “I taught Helen one thing. 'No.' Don't do this, don't do that. I wanted to teach her ‘yes’."

When kids are habitually out of control, it’s difficult to honor their Agency. Because of Helen’s disability, she had developed some pretty bad habits. Those had to be “treated” first in order for her agency to be fully honored.

"Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." ~Matthew 3:2

I made the mistake of giving the little 4-year-old girl some kid-scissors to cut some string she was playing with. When I wasn’t looking, she snuck away and used them to cut her hair. Okay so while it isn’t the end of the world that her bangs are now a little shorter than they were before, I should probably think some privileges through a bit more before giving them. That’s because kids may take advantage of the agency we do give them. That’s what kids do. They’re not doing it to spite us any more than we’re doing it to God to spite him when we take advantage of the agency he gives us. Most of us are just exploring our universe, seeing where the boundaries are, seeing what happens when we make certain choices. We’re all a bunch of scientists.

I bring the scissor-event up to identify the boundaries of the agency rule.  It’s not love if we overdo it. The wise parent and grandparent looks for the balance.  We can be overly controlling or we can be underly controlling. We find that middle ground through our own scientific experiments.