|Image credit: knowhimonline at Flickr|
Food is not typically an issue. Normally, the kids eat whatever they want whenever they like of the things we have. But the waste, time crunch, frustration and the knowledge that he was truly hungry built up until I was furious. We had wasted so much time that we weren't going to be able to enjoy the park, and I saw it as unreasonable pickiness. In retrospect, he has been having terrible allergies lately, and it probably messed with his sense of taste. In the moment, though, I was angry, frustrated and told him through clenched teeth that he was acting selfishly and that it wasn't fair to his sisters to have to miss the park because of him, and that he needed to eat. He continued crying and refusing to touch it.
Despite nearly seven years of being committed to gentle parenting, I wanted to just smack him and force him to eat. Every punitive recording in my mind was playing at full volume. Then the voice of my seven year old cut through my heart. "Mom, your voice sounds really mean. Do you remember what you have said to us before? You know, you won't really be happy as long as Joel feels so bad. You said you care about our feelings." She made it clear that making him feel worse would not resolve anything, and would in fact make the whole situation worse. With a wisdom far beyond her seven years, she continued, "Did you ever act like that? Did you ever cry and tantrum when you were a kid? Why? How did you feel? What made you feel better?"
For the next several minutes, she coached me. I was stunned at how perceptive she was, and deeply convicted by the things that she said. Although the words were piercing, they were also kind and respectful and her tone was loving. She was acting the way I wish that I was, using wisdom as sharp as needle-like fangs to bring about gentleness and peace.
I teared up myself, apologized to my son and made amends. I thanked my daughter for saying the things that I needed to hear. I also told her that I know that someday she will be an amazing mom. My son drank some juice and apologized tearfully over and over as he calmed himself down. As soon as he began to feel better, he began to act better. The rest of the day improved dramatically.
I've often thought about the things we learn from our children, but this was the first time I have considered them as purposefully coaching methrough a situation like this. It was pretty humbling. I have mentioned before that the reason I post so often on gentle discipline is because I need the reminders. It is hard to parent the way I believe God wants me to. Most days, I feel like spanking would be a lot easier. But when I hear the Holy Spirit speaking through my children, lovingly challenging me to live out my convictions, I am profoundly grateful that I don't.
Even with a commitment to peaceful parenting, I struggle. I know myself well enough that if I gave myself mental permission to parent punitively, I would begin to use it as an excuse to act selfishly and pridefully, and I would miss out on things like my daughter's comments today. I would be entrenched in an adversarial mindset and would not be open to anything that appeared to question my authority in a moment like that, regardless of how politely she stated it. And I would lose a much-needed lesson from my little, wise and peaceful teacher.