I was motivated to get another pet after brainstorming our children’s love languages, watching how important physical touch was for all of them. I’ve been working on being more deliberate with my own physical expressions of love, but felt like they needed more tactile experiences. I’m sure there are other ways to meet this need, but I’m telling our family story. We got a cat.
It’s been a good experience, but not without some learning lessons. All three children were instantly possessive. Each was devastated if the cat decided to sleep on someone else’s bed. They were all competing for the cat’s attention and cuddly moments. I’ve repeated a number of times, “The cat is not a toy. He has opinions and feelings. You don’t get to decide to sleep with the cat if he wants to sleep somewhere else. You can’t force the cat to trust you. You can’t force him to love you.” It’s been good.
Today, one of our children mentioned that she’s been doing better about not treating the cat like a possession. I mentioned casually that parents have to learn that lesson, too. All three kids became interested in the conversation and started asking questions. (I still talked more than I should have, but I’m learning.)
Is it okay for parents to give baseball lessons to a child because they love baseball and are hoping he loves it, too? Should they let him quit if he says he doesn’t like baseball? We talked about how wise parents try to find out why their children like or dislike something. That will help them know if they should let them do something else. The children enjoyed talking about why they like certain sports.
I shifted the conversation to music instruction. I just started giving piano lessons to all three children, and am requiring 20 minutes of practice every day. Not all of them like the piano or practicing. All three have resisted at some point. I explained today that I don’t expect all three children to become lifelong lovers of playing the piano; however, they haven’t learned enough to know if their dislike is because they don’t know how to play or because they truly don’t like piano or playing an instrument. They might end up surprised how much they like the piano.
I asked them if they could think of other examples of times when parents let their children enjoy and learn things differently than they do. As they talked, I thought about how this discussion was a good reminder to me. My children are not possessions for me to force into the things I think they should love or want them to do. I can do a lot to cause them to be interested in some things, I can expose them to good and healthy pursuits, I can whet their appetite for what I think they will like or what I think is best for them; but ultimately, I must leave their choices with them and with God. I can rest by trusting my Good Shepherd!
- I can’t force them to obey the Holy Spirit.
- I can’t force them to love the hobbies I like.
- I can’t force them to become the grownups I imagine is best (“you’ll be a great ______” etc.)
- Sometimes I guess wrong on what they like or will be good at. That’s okay. I’ve not failed as a mom or coach.
- Sometimes my children choose things I don’t particularly like.
- Sometimes they guess wrong on what they will like or will be good at. That’s hard for parents to accept, but sometimes we have to let our children guess wrong. They are not our possessions.
I’m so thankful for the example of parents who let my brother and me develop our own interests and personalities. I’m learning how to do the same thing, and discovering it’s just another way to learn how to love my children.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (It’s been pointed out that “the way our children should go” includes more than just God’s commands. Some argue “the way” refers to a child’s natural gifting and personality; parents encourage growth and direction like a young sapling that needs nurture and care. In any case, it’s clear that we have our job to teach and nurture, and we need to leave the results in God’s hands.)
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 (The contrast between “provoke” and “nurture” is instructive for me.)