There was an incident at the mall today. While any busy consumer would have easily passed this family by, I wasn’t in a hurry today, so I witnessed the event play out.
A young teenage boy roughly around 13 or 14-years-old, ran — perhaps racing — with his little brother towards their father. You could tell the teenager was going through some sort of growth spurt: he had outgrown his pants but was wearing a sweater too large for him. Towards the end of their race, the teenager tripped and fell right at his father’s feet. This awkward, young boy rose to his feet under a barrage of his father’s lecturing words. I couldn’t hear it all, but I heard bits and pieces that mentioned “tiny little brain of yours,” “use your sense,” and “fell like a fool.”
The boy’s face went from sheer excitement to deep shame. He tried ever so desperately not to show it, but he was embarrassed. His eyes constantly shifted from his father’s face to the ground. He puffed up his chest and broadened his shoulders to look tough enough to take his father’s words. But what gave him away were his eyes, which were full of fear. He had the body of a growing man, but beneath it you could see a little boy peeking through. A boy who still needed much encouragement and fun in his life. In that moment, his attention was more on proving himself to his father rather than learning from him.
I understood the father’s frustrations. Witnessing your teenage son cause a ruckus in public must not have been comfortable to watch. Though the father tried to subtly calm his children, they ignored their father’s words and eventually paid the price. So of course, in that moment, the father angrily corrected his son.
I am an avid believer that a parent should correct and discipline when necessary. However, witnessing this moment fortified a conviction in me that it is all too essential to choose the right moments and the right methods.
One of the difficult aspects of parenting is that you are responsible for your child. I know that sounds obvious, but that very fact is a game-changer. It’s sometimes easier to enjoy other people’s kids because you can play with them and then walk away. However, with your own kids, you are responsible for cultivating their worldview, their faith in the Lord, their habits, their attitudes, and their ambitions. It’s all on you, the parent. There’s a lot of pressure in that.
Nevertheless, something precedes this great responsibility to raise our children right. It is the responsibility to love our children well, to be connected with them enough to understand what they really need.
Without a strong connection, our children cannot hear our correction.
However, it’s difficult for children to learn how to have healthy connections these days. Back in the day, children would receive affirmation through pats on the shoulders, approving nods, and kind looks. These days, they get it through phone notifications.
On the other end of the spectrum, I also see some parents that overemphasize the need to connect with their children through long, deep meaningful conversations over the dinner table. Although this helps, this is a one-dimensional effort. For example, once I had Moriah (my first) sit in bed with me, and I looked into her eyes and told her that I loved her and was proud of her no matter what. She giggled and said, “Ok, Mommy, can I go play now?” About an hour later, she asked me to play hide-and-seek. I told her that I needed to clean the kitchen. Later, I realized, that was what she needed to feel connected with me. She needed fun. She needed loud. She needed natural.
Sometimes, we need to let our children finish their stories at the dinner table, even if it means they aren’t eating their greens. Sometimes, we need to let them have their messy, chaotic fun, even if it’s not proper. Sometimes, we need to let them make a bit of noise and fall to the ground in the mall. Because behind these annoying and immature moments, they are actually making deep, meaningful connections with one another and with you.And, these connections are the lifeline that your child will need as he/she walks into the wilderness of adolescence and young adulthood.
Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
If I had any right to give any sort of advice to this father (which I do not) that was at the mall, I would have urged him to just let the boy fall. And when he does, offer your hand to pick him back up. Ask him if he’s okay, because that fall looked like it must have hurt pretty badly. Then, when you are away from public attention, you can admonish him to heed your words and encourage him to demonstrate some maturity in public.
I want my kids to learn how to say “thank you” properly. I want them to learn how to stay focused while doing homework. I want them to get their proper nutrition and enjoy it. Oh, and I want them to share with one another, but also respect each other’s personal belongings. And, I want them to go to church for Jesus, not for the candy and games.
But, more than anything else, I want them to know that I love them, so that if I must correct them, they will not be afraid to listen.