Children are like countries. Their disputes often rage over property rights and who has crossed whose borders. When they come together for a summit, aka playtime, they like to divide up into factions and plan war-games and other operations that can lead to both enjoyment and military action. When someone breaks the code of conduct and takes a toy (weapon) of the other team (coalition,) tempers flare and injustice needs to be remedied. In these instances, a small group of ambassadors is generally sent to the parents who, with a representative from each group present, act as a United Nations and hear the dispute. The UN, after listening to both sides, offers up the usual response of “if you can’t share then we are going home,” and the ambassadors head back to their countries to report the sanctions that have been laid on them all.
As a UN mom, I find it a political nightmare when these instances occur because, nine times out of ten, it seems to be my little country that thinks she’s a superpower able to do whatever she wants with the toys she has brought to the party. And the superpower expects everyone else better fall into place. So I am left with two options, I can consider her young age and inability to share well with others as a stage that I know cannot be broken with sanctions, and thus look like a permissive parent to my friends. Or I can crack down on her insurgency and make demands that will end in her humiliation and resentment of me for not, “being on her side” which then gains me points with the UN representatives of the other nations, aka Moms, but not with my own little country.
It’s a conundrum I face almost every time our summits happen. Do I side with my child or teach my child a lesson? Do I make a statement to the press about her illegal actions or do I save those talks for private chambers? Most of the time I opt for the swiftest end to the dispute so that I can get back to conversations with my fellow UN officials and so I say, “If you can’t share we are going to go home.” And then I save the lessons for the drive home.
So when a few days after these particular peace talks had passed and my little country was sharing her feelings about the whole operation, I had to check myself. She was saddened about a particular situation that came out of that war/game, and it was that after the summit with the UN moms one of the kids said to the others under his breath, “Addy sure is bossy.”
Upon hearing this, many moms might jump to their child’s defense and say, “oh no you are not. What does he know!” but I’m a little different. When I see familial sin coming to the surface I want to nip it in the bud, I want to use this painful example as a reason why selfishness never pays off. I want to instruct my child and show her how to behave better the next time. And so in that effort, the first thing I want to do is to say, “well you are a little bossy with them. And if you keep acting like that they won’t want to play with you anymore.” Sounds like helpful and opportune constructive criticism to me. How else will she change if I don’t get on this stuff? After all, I know all about bossiness, it’s a trait that I have as well, one that has taken years and tears just trying to change. I don’t want my daughter to make the same mistakes as me, to burn the same bridges, so I want her to learn now how to die to herself and think of others first. With all that in mind I instead said this, “that’s too bad. I’m sorry he said that. That must have hurt. It’s not nice to hear things like that is it? That’s why it’s good not to talk about people behind their backs, or to say things like that at all. I’m sorry that happened to you.”
Wait. What? That’s not what I meant to say. I meant to tell her all about her selfishness and to use this as a lesson. Darn it! What just happened? I tilted my head, squinted my eyes and thought, ‘is that the right response to sin? Aren’t I supposed to correct that out of her? Did I just miss an opportunity to instruct or did I just take an opportunity to share grace?’ The conclusion I came to in this instance was that if I corrected her at this moment, when she was sharing her pain with me, then I wouldn’t be a safe place for her to go with her pain. I’d be the enforcer, the corrector, the bossy one, not the safe one. But if I empathized with her pain and bit my tongue about the sin, I could rely on her Father to work out the sinfulness. I could go to him and ask him to do a work in her and to capture her heart. After all, I cannot do that: I cannot change her sinful nature by my sheer will. I can instruct her in his ways, and teach her his precepts but I cannot make her believe or act in faith and love.
I don’t know when my daughter will learn to share more consistently. I pray that it will happen soon, but if I am honest I pray that so that I won’t be embarrassed anymore by the absence of this particular fruit in my child’s life. But I don’t want to think of her sinful nature as a reflection on me because then my goal is a selfish one, to make myself look better. I have to start thinking of her sinful nature as a reflection on the veracity of God’s Word, that there is no one righteous, not even one. And that it is by grace that we are saved from that nature, not by parental might or perfect childhood compliance. It’s my sin nature that she has running through her veins, and I know the prescription for that nature in her and me is him and him alone. So I’m learning as I go, how to offer that grace to my child, and to trust him to change her heart and her spirit into one that turns everything she has, even her Nerf gun, over to him that he might be glorified.
How I respond to the sins of others is a continual challenge for me. Do I choose empathy or correction? When is the right time to teach and the time to shut up? I’m learning as I go, making mistakes, reassessing and getting some things right. My prayer is that even though I don’t know it all, that I would somehow always trust him and always side with love, kindness, and grace.