Is our goal as parents to keep our children happy, or to train them up in the way they should go? I think many of us know that our main goal is to train them up in the way they should go, but because children can be stressful (hair-pulling out, feeling like you are going insane – kind of stressful), our daily focus becomes keeping them happy, thereby hoping to reduce stress (for ourselves). After all, who doesn’t want happy kids? But, in the process, as happiness becomes the focus of our day, we find ourselves running after that ever fleeting hope that our children can ever be truly happy, even though we have given them everything we can to keep them in a “happy” place. Throughout the years, I have found myself saying things like, “I don’t know why you are fighting, you should be happy … I never had a gaming device when I was little”, “you should just be thankful we are at a restaurant at all, we rarely went to restaurants when we were little, it’s a privilege you get to go”. At those moments I am frustrated that my children are not “happy”, and I’ve lost sight of the REAL goal, to train up my children in the way they should go. As I contemplated these things before the Lord the other day, I felt like He gave me this parallel.
A few years ago I broke my elbow roller skating. This was the first bone I had ever broken and I learned very quickly what that pain felt like. I also learned, during the healing process, that if I didn’t move the injured joint that the discomfort was minimal and I could continue life fairly normally. So I found myself focused on keeping my arm still, protecting it from bumps and jolts, nurturing it, ultimately coddling my elbow. My goal was to keep my elbow “happy”. The doctor told me that I needed to move it to keep it from freezing up, so I did a little bit, but I didn’t push it too much because it was uncomfortable. It caused my body and mind stress. It wasn’t until a few weeks after I had broken it, and was talking to a friend of mine, that I understood why I had to change my goal/focus. If my goal was to keep my elbow “happy”, I would never regain full motion in it; I would never force it to reach its full potential again. I had to learn to deal with the daily discomfort of training my elbow in the way it should go until it reached my goal of full motion or “fullest potential”. The daily process of stretching it was not comfortable, but it was worth it to have full motion back in my arm.
Likewise, so many times we lose perspective on the fact that the discomfort of our children, in “training them in the way they should go”, is worth it. It is difficult for us to imagine, in the moment of the tantrum, the crying, or the fight, that the end result is worth their (and our) temporary frustrations. But, in the process, we can’t coddle them. We have to use life to “train” them how to respond. When they are learning to walk and move, we have to be willing to let them tumble, because the tumbling TRAINS them how to balance more successfully the next time. We have to tell them “no” and TRAIN them to respond properly when they hear the word (because in life they most certainly will!). We have to TRAIN them to share (because they will have to!). We have to TRAIN them that life will not always be fair (because it won’t). We have to TRAIN them how to respond properly when someone has something they want but that they can’t have (because it will happen!). These are the discomforts of life that we lose focus on when we just want to make them “happy”. Our goal needs to be their HEARTS! TRAINING them how to properly (from their heart) deal with the discomforts of life; TRAINING them how to push past the discomfort to reach their full potential. It’s okay for them to not get a bite of your snack (chocolate… you know it’s always chocolate) when you are eating something. You shouldn’t have to sneak a treat! It’s NOT okay for them fall into a rage when you don’t share that snack, or when they are feeling that discomfort of wanting something, but not getting it. It is our job to show them how to respond properly to that discomfort.
If we want our children to be truly happy, we must help them learn how to respond on the inside in the face of discomfort. We must allow discomfort to come to them and show them how to respond with joy even when life doesn’t go the way they want it to. You must start NOW, whether your baby is like my youngest (10 months old) and having to learn the word “no”… because I want him to reach his full potential and I don’t want him sticking his finger in the light socket; or if your child is two and throwing tantrums “a hundred” times a day; or if your child is 10 or 12 and fighting, being disrespectful, or grumbling and complaining (because “life is unfair”). Start today! Give them good gifts? Yes! Bless them with fun things? Yes! But don’t protect them from discomfort for fear that they will cry, get angry, or behave badly! They will be uncomfortable during growth development, (learning to walk, potty training, learning to share nicely, working to get good grades, learning a new skill) so show them how to do it PROPERLY! We need to train them (and ourselves if we are being honest) to respond to every situation (whether comfortable or not) with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (that list sounds vaguely familiar to me). In the process we will all find that happiness is a CHOICE, not a state of mind. In the process, we will find that it really is possible to have happy children even when life might be uncomfortable. But, it starts with us being willing to let them be uncomfortable in the first place, and then walking with them through it by showing them how to have the Fruit of the Spirit operating in their lives, all day, every day, in every circumstance. It’s worth it! It really is!