One of the biggest impacts on how I look at my son was a passing comment a friend made about her daughter. When talking about how her baby girl (just a few months old at the time) struggles with certain things, she said, “She has her days, but, hey, so do I!” Our babies (and children) are people just like us.
This was really God’s idea, anyway. When He created people, He created them in the image of God. Since all people are created in the image of God, we are called to give respect and dignity to all of humanity, including babies and children.
Seeing our babies and children as people changes the way we parent. It should bring more patience, compassion, empathy, and understanding. I have listened to conversations and watched interactions that represent the opposite of seeing babies and children as people created in the image of God. It’s as though many adults often write off babies’ (and children’s) struggles as lesser or not needing the patience that we ourselves often require of others when they deal us.
The parenting of our children must come from a selfless place where we think about what we are doing, are clear and consistent, deal with our own heart first, and then validate their personhood. When we look at how God fathers us, training and disciplining children is clearly a Scriptural part of parenting (Proverbs 3:11-12 and Proverbs 22:6), but so is doing it in a way that does not frustrate, confuse, and demean them. God tells dads to not exasperate their children (Ephesians 6:4). Ultimately, this means that as parents we must be clear with our expectations of our children. I’ve watched parents punish for an action in a situation, but then let it go moments later in the same situation. Talk about feeling confused and exasperated! Of course we are going to have to discipline; however, disciplining on a whim or explosively or without warning or unclearly or with a sinful motive in our own hearts is a sure fire way to exasperate our kids!
Part of selflessly parenting also means parenting with compassion and understanding. We see God fathering us in this way throughout Scripture (Psalm 145:8). Having this loving tenderness will push us to put ourselves in our children’s shoes and try to understand what their experience of a situation is. This empathy validates their personhood. For example, can you fathom what it is like to just be learning to understand a new language and then have a person give you a forceful command followed by a swift punishment while you’re still trying to figure out what that person just said! Give your child a moment to process what you are saying, allowing them the personhood to think through the situation.
I overheard a mom (who I am guessing usually used a baby monitor) say that she would turn of the baby monitor when her child was teething so she could have some silence. That’s what not seeing your baby as a person does: it basically communicates that my needs as the parent are higher and more important than what you, the baby, are going through. This is a highly self-centered approach to parenting. Granted, as the parent, you know that sometimes if you let your teething baby cry for a few minutes that baby will fall back to sleep. Using that wisdom in parenting is not the issue here. The issue is with any parent disengaging from the child’s pain so that the parent can meet her own needs first and foremost. This is just not how God father’s us. He carries us when we’re in difficult places (Deuteronomy 1:31) and he is near when our hearts are broken (Psalm 34:18). He does not disengage when we are experience pain, but rather joins us in it.
Parenting your babies and children as people takes selflessness. It also takes an incredible amount of empathy. Below are a few questions to check your heart in this arena.
Quick Reference Heart Check for Parenting “People”:
Do you anticipate temptations and struggles that your child might have? Are you looking out for possible areas of misbehavior (at home and in public) so that you can guide your child clearly and consistently when those struggles arise?
Do you communicate with your toddler and child at their eye level, clearly, calmly, and in close proximity? Or do you communicate your instructions from afar, expecting immediate obedience without truly engaging them?
Does your child feel engaged by you prior to misbehaviors or only at the moment of discipline?
Do you understand that you have your own struggles going on, too, often in the same moment that your child is being disobedient? Have you searched out your own heart first before rushing into discipline? Do you understand what is going on inside of you, stopping to check your motives and method of discipline?
Do you engage with your child’s struggles understanding that they are compounded by developmental issues? Do you give your child who is just moving into language acquisition the time it takes to process your instructions (and warnings)?
I recently read in Rachel Jankovic’s book, Loving the Little Years, the following quote that sums this all up quite well:
“You might be thinking to yourself that you would be happy if only you could get a coffee and the kids would stop. Well, they are in the backseat thinking that they would stop fussing if only the parents would let them have a milkshake and go to Pizza Hut.”
Your children are people just like you!