By Guest-Blogger Tet George
Now that I’m a mom, I’ve become much more in tune with children in general, especially tiny tots near my son’s age. My son, Baby Bettis, is a bruiser of a two-year-old, so I’ve had a couple years to observe him and get to know the first developmental stages every human goes through. I’ve also taken every opportunity to observe other kids, my son’s peers, in their homes, in nursery, at the grocery store, and on the playground.
My husband, Bubs, calls me a “noticer.” I can’t help but watch and study people and what they do. So what do I observe? I overhear a toddler whining continually for Goldfish in aisle three… and ten minutes later when we cross paths again, the toddler is enjoying his snack (and his victory). I see an 18-month-old who treats the whole house like a playground, climbing in and out of cabinets, going through mom and dad’s DVDs, sitting on baby equipment far too small for him. I’m told of a 2-year-old who simply “won’t” eat anything but hotdogs and mac n cheese, “won’t” go to bed unless Mommy tucks her in, and “won’t” give up that beloved pacifier.
I might naturally conclude that parenting older babies and toddlers necessitates an affinity for chaos, compromise, and the cataclysm of a pre-kids lifestyle. If these were conclusions I believed to be true, I don’t think I ever would have become a mom. But I embarked on the journey of parenting with an assumption that the principles and practices of our parenting, and not just the personalities and needs of our kids, could shape the environment of our home. I believed whole-heartedly that I wouldn’t have to let go of my dislike of messes, my aversion to whining and demands, and my enjoyment of a fun and flirtatious romance with my husband.
Two years later, my brawny little man has never broken a dish, opened a CD case (though they’re within his reach), or emptied my kitchen cabinets. My carpets are as clean as they were before kids, I still have breakable decorations on lower shelves, and Bubs and I still go on dates and enjoy each other’s company above anyone else’s. And it’s not because I have an unusually placid, compliant kid. Baby Bettis has plenty of will, lots of emotions, and fundamentally, a nature bent towards rebellion and selfishness.
Any of the success we have had in minimizing the impact of these traits can be attributed to our commitment to a few basic principles that we have drawn from God’s Word. First and foremost, my husband and I have prioritized establishing authority. We often say to our son “Who’s the boss?” or “Who’s in charge?” and he knows to respond with “Mommy and Daddy.” Our word is the final word in our house, and eventually our son will understand that just as he must answer to us, we also must answer to a perfect Heavenly Authority.
We also want our son to understand that he is not the center of our family. While we will demonstrate to him how much we love and cherish him, we will also teach him that he is a part of Mommy and Daddy’s family- our marriage is the trunk of the tree, and he is just one branch. This concept mirrors our position in God’s family- we are sons and heirs with a privileged position in His family, but He is the center. And great privilege comes with great responsibility. Just as every Christ-follower has a role in the kingdom, so our son has responsibilities and duties as a pivotal part of our family economy.
And finally, behind all of our parenting is a commitment to building character in our children, from the moment they enter this world. We want to help them develop an arsenal of virtues to aid them in the fight against the flesh, virtues like self-control, patience, wisdom, deference, and compassion. Think of it as “holiness training,” building and developing patterns of right living and thinking, spiritual disciplines that they will need if and when they come to know Jesus personally. Our prayer as parents will be that this training paves the way for a living, breathing relationship with their Creator.
But here’s the real conundrum.
I think many of my Bible-believing peers in America would agree with the principles I’ve outlined. They sound great in theory. Yet I still see so many toddlers dictating their parents’ social lives and activities, expressing their needs in rude demands, and showing an attitude of entitlement towards anything within their grasp.
So it must be an application issue. And I think it boils down to this: our expectations for toddlers and older babies are far too low. We think we can wait to do all that “serious parenting stuff” until later- after all, they’re “just babies” now. We do not expect our little learners to be able to listen and obey with any consistency, let alone be polite and respectful in their interactions with grown-ups and peers. We don’t set a goal of teaching them to self-regulate by resisting the temptation to touch something that is technically accessible. Instead, we “child-proof” the house by locking every cabinet and removing any object that we don’t want them to handle, destroying this vital opportunity to establish authority and to teach them that not everything is theirs for the taking.
Part of this expectations issue comes down to bad theology. We do not have a strong enough view of sin, its inherent hold on our children, and the long-term danger it poses to them if we do not wage a parental war on its effects in their lives. The Bible asserts that we are all “by nature children of wrath… [that] foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child… [and] the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Just as we often ignore and lose sensitivity to our own sins, as parents it is far too easy to excuse or fail to see sinful patterns in our cherubic children. We must make a conscious effort to recognize and address the selfishness in our sweet little babies as soon as it starts to rear its ugly head.
When an 11-month-old throws his lunch on the ground and we dismiss this behavior as “being a baby,” “telling me he’s done,” or even “testing,” we fail to recognize this infantile manifestation of a hardwired rebellion. Every time we throw up our hands instead of promptly addressing defiance or a whiny voice, we reveal that our kids’ character development is less of a priority than our comfort and convenience. If only we understood what was at stake.In the next three parts of this series, I will address practical ways that we can apply the principles of parenting that I’ve outlined and effectively raise the bar for our older babies and toddlers. I’ll discuss how we can raise our expectations in the categories of politeness, age-appropriate rules, and age-appropriate responsibilities.