Dear Young Mom Friend of Mine,
Do not give up! Do not grow weary in doing good. You have young ones and it is a busy, hard, sleep-deprived, intensely physical season of mothering. I know it. You are working hard. Your weariness, your insecurities. . . they are valid and it is okay. This is simply one of your earliest seasons of mothering and what it looks like (for all of us!). I want you to know that I know it is hard and I commend you for the effort you are putting forth through these long days.
I want to encourage you to do the hard work of consistently training your little person. As an older mom, I see what good training brings about. A well-trained baby and toddler will be a well-behaved and delightful child. A well-trained child will bring joy to his mother. It gives me joy when my children come when I call them (while other moms wheedle and plead and coax their children from the playground). It gives me joy when we visit others and I see our hosts eyes light up when my children shake hands, introduce themselves, and thank the host (mind, we do all of this imperfectly!). It gives me joy when I tell my toddler "no" at the grocery store and he is able to manage his disappointment with self-control. I have seen obedience save the life of my child (one dramatic incident when a 4 year old was riding his bike and had to stop immediately when I told him), and the memory is seared in my mind (not for what I did, for I was utterly helpless to save my child, but the grace of God to give me more days with my sweet boy). Because of these things, I believe obedience matters.
Obedience: first time, right away, with a happy heart. Anything other than this is really disobedience. "Start as you intend to go" has always been my motto (though I sometimes lose sight of it in the tyranny of the urgent). If you would like your teen to heed your advice and instruction, you need to start by training your little person to heed. Won't it be nice to say, "please change your clothes," and have your child say, "Yes, Mom" without complaint and rebellion?
The seeds of disobedience run deep in my own heart and I have struggled with this concept of trying to teach my little ones something that I err in daily. I know what God has told me to do (in His Word), and yet I too often rebel, complain, or delay to follow his commands. It's not the best way for me, just as it is not the best way for my children. Because I desire my children to follow God in better obedience than my own, I know they need to learn obedience now, to their earthly masters and parents.
A child left to himself brings shame and disgrace. Oh, how hard it is sometimes to get my lazy self up to discipline my child! It's especially hard when your toddler is disobedient and you are nursing or changing a baby. But don't let these little episodes pass by! Your toddler KNOWS you are probably not going to interrupt a feeding to nip his infraction in the bud. If you can show that you mean it, that you really will discipline that child each and every time because you love them too much to let them develop a sinful habit. . . you will be working on future honor and a jewel of a daughter (or son). These are the times it is SO hard, but you must know that counting to 3 or 10 or 1000 isn't going to help. Raising your voice is not going to work. Threatening... do you even want to be doing that? No, our toddlers reduce us to pleading, threatening, unhappy mommies when we don't have a plan in place to deal with their disobedience.
Lest this sound hard and unbearable, remember there is grace! Mercifully, our children can forget our errors! And I have truly found joy in practicing obedience with my children. Here are a few ideas that have worked well for me:
Blanket time, lap time, room time, etc. These are times that I train the baby (or toddler) to stay where I tell them to stay for a determined amount of time. Start small and reward big! If you give them a book and put them on a blanket and tell them to stay for 5 minutes, it's fun to cheer for them when they have done what you asked. (I use words like, "You did a great job obeying mommy and staying on the blanket!") Gradually, I extend the length of time. I started lap time while I was reading to the older children because it trained the baby to sit on my lap so that he could remain on my lap during our entire church service. (again, imperfectly! but better than it was naturally!) Truthfully, this is sometimes the worst part of the day for me. I SO dislike being interrupted while I read... and inevitably, the baby needs trained multiple times as I read. Sometimes, though, he sits beautifully, and I'm amazed by his self-control. Harnessing that self-control is the key.
Fun times to practice obedience also work well for me. The kids think it is a game and I'm happy with all we can accomplish through this practice that we all enjoy. It looks a lot like Simon Says. After I would change the baby's diaper, I would tell him to go to the wall or the door or the bed. Then I would call him back to me. Then I would say "stop" as he was running back and work on quick, first-time responses. The older kids want to join in, too, and I have them all say "Yes, ma'am" or they have to go back where they started. We throw in silly things, like command to put their hands on their head or somersault to me... but it is AMAZING how this fun practice translates to real obedience in real life situations.
I just want you to know that it's worth it. That you are investing in that little person in ways that have eternal value. I see things in my older children that are the same sin patterns as they had as children, and I wish I had taken more seriously my job of correcting them then. I see how training the FIRST one well is of utmost importance, because that older child will set the tone for all of the children who follow (again, there is grace!). Honestly, I give O (13) a lot of credit for the good traits I see in our younger children that he has modeled for them over the years. And if you can teach your first children to obey well, it sets the standard and example for everyone else. If they don't see whining and complaining and sassing back, they will know that those aren't the things your family is about.
All of this I write in love, as a mama who looks back with some regret and also with so much thankfulness for the (very few) things I did well by God's grace when I didn't even know better. This time as a young mother is such a time for you to focus in on what God says about training children. You want wisdom as a mom? It's all there in His word. There are some other great, practical books (I like Shepherding a Child's Heart as well as Don't Make Me Count to Three, Wise Words for Moms and things from Doorposts and Above Rubies). And this is the time! Now matters! For your children, NOW is so precious and so important. You set the tone for your home, for years to come, and my hope for you is that your children would rise up and call you blessed and that you would take great delight in them.
With humble love,
A Mama of 6
*disclaimer: much Scripture is quoted here. If you read something good, it's probably the Good Word. I hope to go back later and add in references... but I'm in a busy season, too. Please extend grace!