I’ve been watching my responses to my children’s emotions for the last few weeks, particularly the day-to-day crises that as a parent I would consider relatively “small” or “insignificant in light of eternity” [say this last one with a bit of spiritual concern and a knit brow]. Often, I see their crying as a waste of time, self-centered, and a hindrance to getting work done. I have been trying to discover the balance between compassion, and a need to keep the household from crashing to a standstill at every crisis.
Here are examples of some of the crises I have in mind: Yesterday two children were in tears because I told them we would go swimming after their rooms were clean (they are afraid they won’t pass the swim test). One child was in tears because the other can jump rope more times than she can. Another child was in tears because the dishwasher is always the most full on her days to empty the dishwasher. Tears because we weren’t able to go to the store to buy David’s birthday present that week. Tears fairly predictably when there is hard homework or a really messy room to be cleaned. Often tears when I tell kids the day’s schedule and they had something else in mind.
When I see these problems through my eyes only, all I see are the selfishness, pride, and out of control emotions. I think I’m seeing with the spiritual eyes of eternity, confronting sin in my children’s lives. Instead, my words come out harsh and merciless. When I consider how Jesus shows mercy and kindness in response to people with emotions, I try to see from my children’s perspective, and I see that their problems are often very similar to mine: disappointments, discouragement over failure to measure up, fears that have become realized. I thus gain some needed perspective (and humble patience) as I try to keep the day moving along while being merciful and kind. Here are some things I’ve observed.
- Jesus shows kindness by restricting his instruction during emotional times: “I have many things to say to you right now, but you can’t bear them emotionally.” As mothers, we can be like Jesus when we are sensitive to our child’s emotional state and respond with kindness, saving a great deal of instruction for later and keeping our words simple. I have a long way to go before I learn the right balance of kindness and brevity. Jesus shows me that I don’t need to cram everything in, and that I especially need to be sensitive to my listeners’ emotional state when I speak.
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. John 16:12
- Jesus shows kindness by asking questions about the problem. Notice how often Jesus asked questions as he served and taught. Jesus wasn’t asking because he needed information or because he needed to talk through the problems to find a solution, but because his listener needed the questions. It’s a way we humans show we are listening. How often do I interrupt a child because I already know what her problem is and how to fix it? A simple restatement of their words, or a question for more information indicates that I am truly listening: You are worried because your eye starts hurting when you are looking at small things, is that right? Are your eyes itchy or just tired? Does it happen when you are doing legos, or just when you are looking at math? It’s easy to assume that the tears are from laziness or selfishness, when a few questions sometimes reveal otherwise.
He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: Proverbs 1:19
And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Mark 9:21-22
- Jesus shows his kindness with full attention, often with a kind touch. My children respond quickly to love demonstrated by undivided attention, too. Regardless of whether the crisis is real, imagined, appropriate, or overblown, it is appropriate to stop what I am doing and give full attention for a period of time. At the least, I might need to take ten seconds to make eye contact, give a hug, and say, I’m sorry you’re feeling so sad. A few seconds of a quiet hug go a long way, especially when I’m in the last fifteen minutes of cooking dinner!
And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. Mark 1:41
- Jesus set an example by becoming a servant, not grasping his own rights but putting the needs of others first. I’ve been challenged to make sure that I’m not shushing crying children simply because it’s inconvenient or unpleasant for me. Crying children take up time, and they seem to have crises at the most inconvenient times: at church, on the way to school, during a doctor’s appointment, while I am making dinner. If I want to show kindness to my emotional children, I must remember God’s command in Philippians 2:2-7.
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Tomorrow I’ll talk about my surprising discovery that when I work on being kind and compassionate, I still end up saying, “Time to stop crying and move on with our day.” That’s the thing I thought I was trying to avoid!
Edited: Followup post here.