what do you do when some concerned individual offers unsolicited advice about how you should handle your children? whether it is a relative or a bothered customer at the grocery store, do you run home and implement their suggestions right away? do you start yelling, “you have no idea what i deal with on a daily basis! i’ll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself!” do you go home and bawl yourself to sleep, feeling guilty for being such a horrible parent? or is your response something a little less extreme?
i hate it when people, albeit with good intentions, point out the flaws of my children and indicate that somehow this is my fault. “your girls fight too much.” “your two-year old shouldn’t still have a pacifier.” “i can’t believe you let your twins climb on the tables and counters.” “your six girls should help around the house more.” i feel that the problem pushed on me is to transform all these selfish people into selfless servants by the age of 2. i want to scream, “these are my children! would you like to take them home with you and make them perfect?!”
instead, i remain silent. i let the person share their concerns, trying to remain objective. like in the fable of the father & son who were traveling with their donkey to market, if i tried to do all the things the way that everyone suggested i would end up looking silly and inconsistent. and yet, it is hard when someone criticizes your children- you are the one who has shaped them, thus far.
but when you think about it, parents are not the sole molders of their children. first of all, children are not made with a cookie cutter- some are more compliant than others. there is also influence from media and peers at school or church. oh, and then there is the whole sin-nature thing; kids naturally don’t want to obey- they want things their way. so when a parent is faced with raising a child that is hell-bent on going the opposite direction, what should their priorities be?
i believe parents need to know what battles to fight- what kind of adults do you want your kids to become?
do you want them to know, trust, and obey God? then, by our example, we need to show them what it means to live this kind of life. and we teach our kids to obey God by expecting them to obey us, their parents, when they are young. i have my kids sit in a time-out chair (one minute corresponding to their age) even for having a fit. i want them to know what is acceptable and to realize that they are not in charge. we must also have realistic expectations for them; a 2 year-old cannot do the same things an 8 year-old can.
do you want your children to be kind and selfless? then encourage your child in the moments when you see them helping a sibling or loving someone when they are sad. give them opportunities to reach out in kindness at home (e.g. “your sister just fell down; would you go ask her if she is okay, and give her a hug.”) and to reach out to outsiders by looking for needs and finding ways to fill them (e.g. let them buy some groceries with money they have earned and take them to a local food bank).
do you want educated kids? read to them. do you want healthy kids? offer them healthy snacks and limit screen time. do you want kids you aren’t using a pacifier after age 2? you’ll have to ask someone else on that one.
just decide what is important to you and your spouse. yes, i want my kids to be safe. i want them to be respectful. i want them to fold ten loads of laundry by themselves. But, i also want them to know that i will love them no matter what they break; i will teach them what i can knowing that i will not always be their only teacher; i will live a life i want them to copy; i will say i’m sorry and ask for forgiveness when i am wrong.
so the bottom line is decide what you want to work on with your kids. and if someone comes to you and says, “where ARE your child’s clothes?!!” or some other unnecessary remark, you can just smile and think, “we’ll work on that issue in our own timing- every child is different.” because, honestly, nobody is really expecting an answer: they just think it would be helpful if they pointed out to you what you obviously haven’t noticed yourself.
so if you’re ever tempted to point out the shortcomings of someone else’s kids- don’t. unless of course you’d like to take the job over yourself. ’cause, let’s face it, parenting is a big job. and we all need as much grace and encouragement as we can get. have a great day!